Aral Balkan

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Saying goodbye to an old friend

Screenshot of the Better web site, showing the Better badge in front of clouds. Reads: Better 1996-2021

How do you like them apples? We didn’t and poor Better paid the price.

Trillion-dollar corporations are not your friend.

This isn’t a revelation to me. I’ve been saying it for some time now. And yet, over the years, I’ve taken my share of flack for seeing Apple as a viable mainstream stopgap based on its business model.

Well, that position has become untenable ever since Apple announced, got slammed for, doubled-down on, delayed, and finally, with iOS 15.2, started drip feeding us the changes in an attempt to slowly boil frogs as it continues with its plans to implement client-side scanning on iPhones, iPads, and Macs.

Apple didn’t come up with the client-side scanning idea, by the way, William Barr and Trump’s justice department did (also read the follow-up):

The suddenness of this new push is alarming. Also noteworthy is that suddenly the main reason to demonize encryption is CSAM, with terrorism and other ills playing second fiddle. Even as recently as late July 2019, when Barr revived his predecessors’ habit of castigating encrypted service providers, it was drug cartels he invoked. But CSAM is the dominant focus now, suddenly and thoroughly.

It is beyond question that CSAM is a real and serious problem … It is radioactive, it is illegal everywhere, and no legitimate company wants it on their servers. Nevertheless, this new single-minded focus on CSAM in the revived anti-encryption push feels like an exceedingly cynical move on the part of the U.S. government. Out of the Four Horsemen of the Infocalypse (terrorism, drug trafficking, CSAM, and organized crime), terrorism didn’t work to turn public opinion against encryption, so the government has switched horse(men) midstream.

One proposal for enabling law enforcement access is to build a system where the provider … would check content, such as a photo attached to a message, before it’s encrypted and transmitted to another user – i.e. while the content is on the sender’s device, not traveling through the provider’s server – to try to figure out whether that content is or might be abusive content such as CSAM.

A long time coming

My disenchantment with Apple has been a long time coming.

It hasn’t helped that since we moved to Ireland and set up Small Technology Foundation, we haven’t been able to get Apple to move our developer account over from our old organisation based in the UK to the new one here in Ireland.

In fact, we were going to discontinue Better then as we couldn’t afford to keep two organisations going but we received an offer from Apple to sort things out. I naïvely took them at their word and announced it as “a happy ending.”

Right afterwards, Apple went entirely silent on us.

We haven’t heard a single word from them over the last two years even after we closed down the old organisation (that our Apple developer account is still technically linked to) and even though we contacted their offices in Ireland to follow up.

So there’s that.

(Understand that this is something they happily do for large companies. It’s just that a two-person not-for-profit is next to worthless in their eyes.)

As I wrote at the time:

[T]his is just how life is when you’re dealing with trillion-dollar faceless corporations. It’s just one reason why it’s so important that we fund and develop human-scale small tech as an alternative to the strangehold of big tech on our lives.

Then, they went and killed offline web apps.

And then they started using your data to enable third parties to target you (but said it was OK because all the data was on your own device1).

And then they continued collecting more and more data about us that we were assured would stay on our own devices unless we wanted to share it.

And then they reneged on the last bit with their plans to implement client-side scanning.

And then I recently had a chilling chat with an ex-Apple employee and realised that the stuff we hear is just the tip of the iceberg. (Hey, Tim Cook, if you say “privacy is a human right” but withhold it from your own employees, does that mean you really don’t believe that it’s a human right or that you don’t believe your employees are human beings?)

Anyway, none of this makes me want to write another line of code for or spend another cent on the devices of such a company.

This apple is rotten to its core and I’m done with it.

So, what next?

We build the Small Web.

We support alternative operating systems.

We encourage and support folks like Pine64, Starlabs, Purism, and System76 who are building alternatives.

We envision and create a world where your only alternative is not to be shackled to the whims of fucking trillion-dollar corporations.

Who’s with me?

Like this? Fund us!

Small Technology Foundation is a tiny, independent not-for-profit.

We exist in part thanks to patronage by people like you. If you share our vision and want to support our work, please become a patron or donate to us today and help us continue to exist.

  1. Your own device tracking and profiling you is not OK even if the data never leaves your device if it is used not in your interests but in the interests of a third party. Apple News has been doing that for some time now. Does it matter whether Apple, Inc. has the data if some advertiser can still attempt to influence you based on your current emotional and mental state? No. Either your device works in your interests and your interests alone or it is not your device. ↩︎