Slate compiled a list of the 30 most evil companies in tech, starting with Mspy (#30) all the way up to Amazon (#1). I weighed in on Oracle (#17, "It takes a lot to make me feel like Google is being victimized by a bully, but Oracle managed it") and Apple (#6, "Apple won’t spy on you for ads, but they’ll help the Chinese government spy on its citizens to keep its supply chain intact").
As a companion piece, I wrote "Against the Cult of Apple" for Slate, where I discuss how the intangible asset of a customer base that believes that buying products from a trillion-dollar monopolist makes them members of an oppressed religious minority allows the company to escape criticism for a wide range of deeply unethical conduct, from its sabotage of the repair and recycling movement to its overseas labor practices to its tax-dodging to its monopolistic strong-arming of software authors.
In 2017, the Chinese government banned the distribution of virtual private networks—which are supposed to keep web browsing private and secure—insisting that they be replaced with VPNs with known back doors to allow the Chinese state to capture and analyze VPN traffic. That summer, Apple removed all working VPNs from its App Store in China. Concerned about this move, Senators Ted Cruz and Patrick Leahy sent a letter to Apple saying the company “may be enabling the Chinese government’s censorship and surveillance of the Internet.” A year later, we learned that consequences of Chinese state surveillance was anything but abstract. In May 2018, the Associated Press first reported on concentration camps for Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang province, and credible estimates put the total number of incarcerated people at 1 million. Rather than push back against China’s demands, Apple made a change to its app platform that potentially made the rounding up of these prisoners easier. The fact that this was not the commercial surveillance that has earned Facebook and Google scrutiny is hardly relevant. Apple’s decision not to mine its users’ behavior for advertising purposes is no comfort when it so easily folds to the demands of a surveillance state for nonadvertising purposes.
Nor is the fact that Apple would struggle to keep its supply chain intact if it were kicked out of China any excuse: It’s not like the country’s dismal human rights record was any secret when Apple made it central to its operations (and of course this is just as true of every other manufacturer that has made its business dependent on keeping Beijing’s politburo happy).
There’s a touchstone of the techlash: “If you’re not paying for the product, you’re the product.” But the reality is that monopolists are endlessly inventing ways of extracting rents from their customers and suppliers. In fact, the saying works even outside the free-for-data model of Facebook and Google. When it comes to Apple, even if you’re paying for the product, you’re still the product: sold to app programmers as a captive market, or gouged on parts and service by official Apple depots.
Against the Cult of Apple [Cory Doctorow/Slate]
The Evil List [Slate]
(Image: Gwendal Le Bec/Slate)