And If You Don't Like Them

Daring Fireball:

What happens, for example, if China demands that it provide its own database of image fingerprints for use with this system — a database that would likely include images related to political dissent. Tank man, say, or any of the remarkable litany of comparisons showing the striking resemblance of Xi Jinping to Winnie the Pooh.

This slippery-slope argument is a legitimate concern. Apple’s response is simply that they’ll refuse.

This hinges on Apple doing the right thing, protecting the privacy of its users. John Gruber is right that Apple has a record of showing more spine than usual to demands from law enforcement even in charged situations, but the problem is that Apple also has a record of bending to the PRC's will.

During a few days in October 2019, it pulled and then reinstated an app allowing Hong Kong democracy protesters to organize. (The story includes a statement by Apple CEO Tim Cook attempting to staple legitimacy to the takedown and features a quote from one John Gruber, who "called Cook’s explanation “both startling and sad,” adding, “I can’t recall an Apple memo or statement that crumbles so quickly under scrutiny.”")

I have no reason to believe that Apple is in a hurry to assent to PRC policies, or that it doesn't bite its tongue when forced to follow a directive from CCP or Beijing. Apple also has a responsibility to keep its employees safe, and from a state that perpetuates genocide against its own citizens and pull public figures from society, I can only imagine the many ways they wouldn't be.

In other words: Yes, I fully believe that Apple will refuse when asked, and I don't question their motives for why this feature should exist. The problem is that I don't believe it's remotely enough. Some states do not have a record of taking no for an answer, and when recent history shows impactful decisions, going against those same values and morals, that are the result of either successful pressure or regulatory capture, the situation recalls the words of a quite different Marx: "Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others."

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