February 17, 2016 Last Updated 12:48 pm

Apple pushes back against order to build ‘backdoor’ to iOS; Scribd moves from all-you-can-read to three eBooks per month

Morning Brief: California judge orders Apple to unlock the phone of killed San Bernardino shooter, after the FBI fails to gain access to the customer’s data

Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym of the Federal District Court for the District of Central California yesterday order Apple to unlock the iPhone 5c of Syed Rizwan Farook, one of two shooters in the San Bernardino terrorist attack last year. The Justice Department had a search warrant for the iPhone, but had no luck accessing the data and said they needed Apple’s assistance.

Late yesterday Apple said “No”.

iPhone firmware“The United States government has demanded that Apple take an unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers,” wrote Apple CEO Tim Cook in a letter to customers. “We oppose this order, which has implications far beyond the legal case at hand.”

Since Apple has the email addresses of its customers, it could have sent an email letter, but instead chose to simply post the letter online, calling into question just how strongly Apple really feels about this issue.

Silicon Valley companies have long been accused of being all too willing to cooperate with the government when it comes to accessing customer data. Apple’s position has been that security is a major differentiator, and a major reason customers stay loyal to their iOS devices.

“For many years, we have used encryption to protect our customers’ personal data because we believe it’s the only way to keep their information safe. We have even put that data out of our own reach, because we believe the contents of your iPhone are none of our business,” Cook said.

But the US is in a Presidential election cycle and candidates, especially on the Republican side, have tried to act tough against terrorism, even advocating for more use of torture, as well as military tactics that would be considered crimes against humanity.

Because of this, Apple CEO Tim Cook knows he cannot position the company as a protector of terrorists.

“We were shocked and outraged by the deadly act of terrorism in San Bernardino last December,” Cook said. “We mourn the loss of life and want justice for all those whose lives were affected. The FBI asked us for help in the days following the attack, and we have worked hard to support the government’s efforts to solve this horrible crime. We have no sympathy for terrorists.”

Apple said they have been cooperating with the FBI and providing any data involving Farook in the possession of Apple. But Apple said the FBI wants the company to build a “backdoor” into iOS that would allow the government access to data when it requests it.

“The FBI may use different words to describe this tool, but make no mistake: Building a version of iOS that bypasses security in this way would undeniably create a backdoor. And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control.”

iPhone-filesThe Electronic Frontier Foundation has come down on the side of Apple:

“We are supporting Apple here because the government is doing more than simply asking for Apple’s assistance,” said Kurt Opsahl, Deputy Executive Director and General Counsel at the EFF.

“For the first time, the government is requesting Apple write brand new code that eliminates key features of iPhone security—security features that protect us all. Essentially, the government is asking Apple to create a master key so that it can open a single phone. And once that master key is created, we’re certain that our government will ask for it again and again, for other phones, and turn this power against any software or device that has the audacity to offer strong security.”

Apple will likely appeal the judge’s decision.

The iPhone in question, by the way, is the property of the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health, where Farook worked, so the FBI has permission to search it. The issue here is their inability to break the passcode to unlock it. The FBI cannot simply try every four number code endlessly until they succeed because after 100 tries the phone wipes the user’s data. Also, being an iPhone 5c, there is no Touch ID.

If that level of security sounds like a commercial for Apple, well you know why Apple is playing this up. What is not understood, however, is Apple’s reluctance to update this iPhone with a special version iOS so that the phone can be unlocked as it would only apply to this single phone. Maybe, I’m guessing, Apple feels that once this is done for this one phone they will be requested to do this again and again.

Scribd yesterday revised the rules for its all-you-can read eBook service, limiting customers to three books and one audiobook per month. The service, despite the changes, will still cost $8.99 per month.

“We’ve worked hard to strike the right balance between providing our members with high-quality books and achieving long-term sustainability,” the company said. “These changes will affect a small number of members – only 3% in any given month. We want you to know that we’re continuing to explore additional membership options for all types of readers.”

In September of last year Oyster announced that it was shutting down its own eBook service, with much of the staff heading to Google. It may be that only major players such as Apple, Google and, of course, Amazon, are in a position to make an eBook subscription service work for them – though not necessarily make that service profitable. Such a service is still a valuable way to get customers to use your hardware. Without hardware to sell, however, such a service may be a losing proposition.

As TNM has written for the past several years, one can assume that digital magazines are failing to get a foothold in the market due to the failure of Apple’s Newsstand, and falling audit numbers. But while this is happening, more and more library systems are moving towards replacing their magazine offerings with digital magazine services.

In just the past few days the Christian County Library has joined the OverDrive driven Missouri Libraries 2 Go system, while the Washington-Centerville Public Library is using Zinio’s service. Ozark Regional Library also has joined the OverDrive platform.

m2go-780The move to digital magazines makes sense for libraries because it allows them to do two things at the same time: remove physical copies of magazines, making more room for other offerings; while at the same time expand the number of magazine titles they can offer their patrons.

“One of the interesting we started to see was the libraries’ selection mix. The first thing is that a publisher has to approve being part of this program. It’s not just every single magazine on Zinio, and there are some publishers who have opted out at this time, and some who have said ‘sure’.”

In March of 2013 TNM spoke with Zinio about their library program. The company said at the time that back then the titles the library would offer was set by the library system and that Zinio was not finding any cannibalizing of print.

“So if you are in the consideration set, the library gets to choose which magazines they want,” said Jeanniey Mullen, who was then Global Executive Vice President, CMO at Zinio. “In the early days, one of the concerns that the publishers had was ‘oh God, if the library is buying a print subscription to Car and Driver magazine, and they get it digitally, they are not going to buy the print anymore.’”

“And that was one of the first fallacies that the libraries basically laughed about, because they said that with food magazines, with fitness magazines, with any kind of auto magazines, these magazines get destroyed. The first day that Men’s Fitness comes out they guarantee that every single exercise page is ripped out and taken,” said Mullen.

“So for them, being able to buy the print (magazine) because they still want it there, and they still want people to see it on the shelves, and then have a digital copy where people can actually enjoy the content that they expected is huge.”

The reason to continue to follow this trend is that as more and more libraries add these digital magazine services it is possible that for many readers their first contact with a digital magazine will be through their local library. Sadly, it also means that readers will only see PDF replicas of print magazines as that is what these services offer. Few, if any, digital-only titles are available.

Photo (home page and above): iPhone firmware/software update 1.0.1 by Scott Schiller under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

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