I came across something the other day (maybe other week, by now?) that has had me wrestling with my reaction to it ever since. To be quite honest, I’m not even sure how I came across it at this point.
What I found was a couple articles by a computer & network security professional out of Berlin. Here are the links for you to read them yourself:
I’m sure Apple has had teams of legal experts work through their Terms of Service that every Mac user must agree to so that the above-documented conduct is not technically an illegal search and therefore a violation of our rights as defined under the Constitution and Bill of Rights. And yes–as I am an American–I am writing this from an American perspective. If you are reading this in a different locality/jurisdiction, you would have to research what document provides similar protections.
Two things–at a minimum–bother me.
#1: the location updates referenced in the first link are sent to Apple via plain text. No encryption. No hashing. Nothing. At least at the time of the writing–9 April 2022–that was the case. I would like to think that Apple has changed that since then, but frankly, I doubt it. Is this a major problem for me? Honestly… no, not really. At least, not at this time. I could easily see it being a problem for someone with a stalker who has the proper skills and equipment to obtain these plain-text location updates. At that point, I would think a legal expert could make the case for Apple effectively being an accessory to the stalking. But I could also easily be wrong. After all, I don’t even play an attorney on TV. Regardless, I thought we reached the point quite a while ago where most people in-the-know agreed that sensitive data crossing the internet should be encrypted.
#2: MacOS is apparently now scanning our local image files. Okay… right, then. So, I’ve never made any secret of the fact that I am a geek and former Information Technology professional. I specialized in Servers & Networks, and therefore, I’ve never expected anything I send out to the internet to be private in any way. No one should put anything in an email that they wouldn’t want written large enough to be visible from orbit with the Mark 1 eyeball. But the local files on my computer are a different matter entirely. Yes, yes… I understand and agree that child pornography and sex trafficking and human trafficking and all the other ways that bad people exploit human misery and/or suffering are not just bad; they’re heinous, ghastly, and potentially unforgiveable. That does not mean that I support wholesale invasion of citizens’ privacy and personal computer systems as part of an effort to combat those crimes.
A very common refrain that usually–if not always–arises at this point is the old saw, “But if you don’t have anything to hide, what does it matter?” Well… it matters quite a bit, or at least, it should. Privacy is not a matter of hiding stuff we don’t want people to know, see, or otherwise be aware of. Privacy–in my mind, at least–is one of the fundamental cornerstones of the idea that our lives are our own to do with as we please. If privacy only matters to people with something to hide, why are medical records considered protected and private information? If privacy only matters to people with something to hide, why is everyone’s tax return not public information? If privacy only matters to people with something to hide, why are Social Security Numbers and people’s biometrics not public information? I could keep going, but I feel I’ve illustrated this point well enough.
All other things being equal, the solution to this is simple. Stop using Apple products. I don’t need them to do what I love doing. I don’t need them to write my stories and publish them to the world.
Apple products are horribly convenient. They are very user-friendly. They make my life easier.
For example: a few years ago, I became rather tired of always needing my phone or my computer to know what time it was. I could’ve gone back to the tried-and-true Timex. For that matter, I have my grandfather’s watch around here someplace; I could’ve easily replaced its battery, set the time, and worn it. But… I didn’t. I bought an Apple watch. And within a matter of days–if not hours–I was amazed at how damned handy it was. I feel like my overall level of fitness has improved since I bought it… and you know what? It paired effortlessly with my phone. No glitches. No tinkering to make it work. Nothing. Just opened the Watch app on my phone and set everything up. I even designed a custom watch face using one of the modular faces in the gallery to display the data I care most about.
I have written in the past about how much I enjoy the fact that Apple devices just… simply… work. It’s all well and good if I want to tinker for tinkering’s sake. But when having to tinker prevents me from doing what I want or need to do, that’s just a frustrating set of affairs. I should only tinker when I want to, and with Apple devices, I don’t need to tinker at all.
Hence my conflict…
I’ve already worked out the alternative I would use if I made the choice to drop all Apple devices. It’s called Qubes OS. Well… if I cared deeply enough about taking control of my personal digital privacy, it would take the form of a Purism Librem 5 USA (Linux Phone) and a Purism Librem 14 with Qubes OS and a Librem key. Two things stop me from going the Purism route: #1, I prefer larger laptops (14″ just seems too small for my bear paws); and #2, that path ain’t cheap. The Librem 5 USA is $1,995 all by itself.
Adam Smith is quoted as saying (or possibly writing), “Everything is worth what its purchaser will pay for it,” and a full replacement of my daily kit at the cost of roughly $4,971 ($1,995 for Librem 5 USA plus $2,976 for a Librem 14 configured to my liking) is just not worth it to me. Especially when I factor in that I personally feel I could achieve a reasonable standard of personal digital privacy by purchasing a laptop and installing Qubes OS myself… but… I have the technical skills to do that. I realize and understand that not everyone does.
So… what is the answer?
I admit that I’m still wrestling with the answer to that. For all that they allow Apple to invade my life in ways I truly don’t want, I rather like my iPhone, MacBook, and Apple Watch. If they weren’t so damned handy… if they didn’t work together seamlessly… if they didn’t enable me to just sit down and start writing without tinkering or rebooting for updates or what have you… resetting them to factory defaults and selling them off would be so, so, so easy.
I will say that I purchased a cheap laptop on eBay that has good bones, and I already have the necessary items to upgrade it to a standard I consider usable. And yes… I’m going to install Qubes OS on it and start tinkering with that. I’m also going to take Purism’s Librem One out for a spin. One of the things I like about the Apple ecosystem is how my texts synchronize between my phone, my tablet, and my computer, and I want to see if the chat offering of Librem One has the potential to do likewise. I may have to give their prepaid cellular service a try for one month to explore that, but one month isn’t a huge financial commitment.
I will report back later on my explorations of both Qubes OS and Librem One.
Stay safe out there.