Apple, long a champion of consumer privacy, now sits at a crossroads
5 min read
Some experts question whether the iPhone maker needs to do more to protect its users.
Angela Lang/CNET

Apple has long been seen as a champion of security and privacy in a tech industry consumed with vacuuming up consumer data. Two recent events, however, have raised questions about whether the iPhone maker's reputation is losing its luster.

Earlier this month, Apple released an emergency patch to close holes in the operating systems powering its iPhones, iPads and Apple Watches that made them vulnerable to Pegasus spyware made by Israel's NSO Group. The patch, rolled out a week before new versions of the operating systems were to be released, created unwanted attention that detracted from the company's fall device launch.

In a separate walkback, Apple postponed an announced feature that would scan its devices for images of child exploitation. Privacy and security experts, as well as other critics, charged the approach to combating the illicit material was tantamount to creating a backdoor that could be exploited by governments intent on curbing free expression.

"How Apple handles this, and they've handled this reasonably poorly over the last few days, will affect how they're able to preserve trust with their consumers," said Richard Bird, chief customer information officer at the cybersecurity firm Ping Identity.

The Pegasus spyware discovery could constitute a "Cambridge Analytica moment," he says, referring to Facebook's headline-grabbing collection of data that was used for election campaigning.

The public criticism of Apple's security and privacy mark a crossroads for a company that has used its commitment to its user-focused stance as a way to distinguish itself from its data hungry rivals. The company won plaudits for pushing back against the FBI, which wanted Apple to crack the iPhone 5C of a terrorist who killed 14 people in 2015.

Apple used that steadfast position on privacy to flick its competitors. The company ran a billboard before the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show reading: "What happens on your iPhone, stays on your…
Bree Fowler
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