Apple has a new privacy feature, but not for its customers in China, nor for customers on a list of common suspicious dictatorships that tend to mark with China. The new privacy feature masks a customer’s unique IP address of advertisers, ISPs, governments and other third parties with whom the customer interacts. Third parties will not be able to discover the customer’s identity or location, and Apple will not know which websites its customers are visiting. That means improving the privacy of Apple customers.
But there is a catch. U.S. law enforcement will find it harder to track down terrorists and spies in the United States, and Chinese police will continue to easily track down and arrest China’s human rights activists. In doing so, Beijing increases its power in relation to the power of governments in democracies. Thanks, Apple.
The company laughs all the way to the bank. It took care $ 21 billion in revenue from China in 2020, 57 percent higher than in the previous year. Apple claims support 2 million jobs in the United States, but it only directly employs 80,000. Compare this with 4.8 million jobs that support it in China. All of these jobs and sales in China yield taxes that support the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which commits genocide on its own people and builds missiles aimed at American cities.
So Apple is no saint. The new privacy feature is no exception. Apple could have helped U.S. law enforcement catch terrorists and spies by keeping abreast of customers’ web browsing, without giving advertisers the data they need for targeted ads. But no. Apple deliberately makes it impossible for itself to help U.S. law enforcement.
Apple customers want total privacy, which is understandable, and Apple gives their customers what they want. This is the beauty and Achilles heel of unregulated capitalism. There is a collective action problem. Each of us wants total privacy, but if we all have privacy, we defend security.
The CCP probably also welcomes Apple’s privacy feature in the United States, where its spies can use iPhones without worrying about the FBI catching them. We are thus becoming a democratic but disorganized dispute in the face of China’s highly disciplined power deployment, including by keeping Apple in line with CCP interests.
Apple CEO Tim Cook announced the new privacy feature on June 7 under a large “Privacy” sign with a closed Apple logo. Cool, cute and crowd. Except Chinese human rights activists and victims of crime in democracies, where Apple’s privacy hammer protects the privacy of criminals, where a scalpel would protect the privacy of only law-abiding people.
The new Apple feature is called ‘private relay’ and will not be available in China and several countries near China. According to Reuters, this is include Belarus, Colombia, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, Uganda and the Philippines. Leaders in these countries, many of whom are dictatorships, are not stupid. They are going to hold on to power by violating the privacy of their citizens and arresting human rights activists. Either Apple helps them do that, or Apple can’t sell in their countries. Apple is responding by announcing the data to maximize its profits. Apple and greedy dictators are two peas in a pod.
Each client’s device, such as a computer, tablet or phone, has a unique IP address used to browse the internet. In compliant countries, Apple plans to keep themselves and the world in the dark about using every customer on the Internet by first removing the IP address from the traffic and then directing the traffic through an outside company which assigns the traffic a temporary IP. address. So Apple knows what the IP address is but not the sites visited, and the external company knows what the sites are but not the IP address. This makes it difficult for advertisers and the government who want to use ‘fingerprints’ to discover the characteristics or even the identity of the customer by extracting diverse information obtained from the behavior of customers. Perhaps “private relay” will even deter authoritarian regimes like China from discovering information about Apple users in the United States. Cue cheering from the internet.
But there is an irony and an excessive fact that citizens in democracies are voting for the rule of law to protect themselves, but Apple is fighting hard to ensure that not only non-democratic third-party actors are banned from our browsers, but that our own democratic governments will not be able to apply the laws that have been achieved in a democratic way Free people want their freedom and privacy, also from the government. But it makes it harder for democratic governments of the free to catch those who harm free people.
Democratic governments are thus weakened by the freedoms they guarantee, making them more vulnerable to takeover by autocratic governments that benefit Apple because they do not allow the same freedoms to their citizens. While Apple can get away with nothing in China, it therefore cooperates with the government, but has the space to abuse its freedoms in the United States, and therefore makes full use of those freedoms to protect them to protect crime.
In 2016, for example, Apple refused a law enforcement request for assistance in unlocking the iPhone of an Islamic State terrorist who killed 14 and injured 22 in San Bernardino, California. Advocates for privacy have used absurd arguments for slippery slopes to intimidate citizens. If Apple opens the phone of this single terrorist, what can the government not stop Apple from putting security cameras in your bedroom?
Answer: The voters (controlled by the government) do not want security cameras in their bedrooms. They just want to catch a terrorist every now and then.
We can imagine the problem in market terms, with democracies demonstrating the superiority of their freedoms over non-democracies, whose citizens would overthrow their dictatorships as a result. Then we can relatively empower Apple to empower autocracies against democracies on an informative level, because democracies gain much more power at a public opinion level through the demonstrations of freedom. Those who live under unfree government should consider our freedoms and be so impressed as to overthrow their unfree governments. But they don’t seem to be doing that fast.
In fact, the trend is the opposite, with increasing losses of freedom and democracy since 2006, according to Freedom House. Last year, perhaps partly due to the pandemic, was the worst year for freedom since the negative trend began. Nearly 75 percent of the people will be living in a situation of deteriorating democracy by 2020. “The incumbent leaders have increasingly used force to crush opponents and settle scores, sometimes in the name of public health, while beleagured activists – without effective international support – have imposed heavy prison sentences, torture or murder in many areas,” he said. Freedom House. “These waning blows were the 15th consecutive year of decline in global freedom.”
Free people and the governments that control them must become smarter by using the tools at our disposal, including great technology, to promote freedom worldwide. Sometimes more absolute privacy of law enforcement in a democracy is used against us by unfree who invade our democracies to inflict damage on freedom. Here, a subtle balance can be achieved on multiple levels, and Apple apparently does not lean to help.
Anders Corr holds a bachelor’s / master’s degree in political science from Yale University (2001) and a doctorate in government from Harvard University (2008). He is a principal at Corr Analytics Inc., publisher of the Journal of Political Risk, and has conducted extensive research in North America, Europe, and Asia. He wrote ‘The Concentration of Power’ (in 2021) and ‘No Trespassing’ and edited ‘Great Powers, Grand Strategies’.
Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.