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Do You Trust Apple and Google More Than Your Government?

By Guest Writer on March 14, 2019

digtial identity card

Lesson I: Never take candy from strangers, unless they are a multinational tech corporation

When I was younger, I was taught that the ridges and patterns found on my fingertips are so unique, that no other person in the world has them.

I can only assume you were also told that your fingertips are unique too — and not in a millennial sort of unique where everyone is so unique that they deserve a participation medal — actually unique.

And it’s true.

As I grew older, however, things got a little darker. Unique fingertips also meant that if someone got a hold of them, they could potentially steal my money; identity; frame me for murder, and leave me to rot in jail for the rest of eternity.

Okay, I’m exaggerating, but you get the point.

Needless to say, I wasn’t pleased with the possible outcomes and became cautious about formally providing my fingerprints anywhere. Whenever I had the option, I’d usually opt out of any biometric system available, even if it meant losing some of my precious time, and having to endure a copious amount of paperwork in the process… Don’t take candy from a stranger kind of trauma, if you know what I mean.

Anyway, although I know better today, I’d like to believe I wasn’t the only one who was warned about these things, and I think it’s safe to say that it caused most of us to take a certain measure of caution when needed.

Then came the iPhone.

When I got my iPhone 6s (which I still use, by the way), I remember being so excited to set it up, thinking about how cool and futuristic it’ll be to access my phone using only the tip my thumb…

Double standards, much? Absolutely.

While I often refused to provide my own government with my fingerprints, I didn’t think twice about giving them to Apple. In my mind, I naively believed that I was in control and could simply “opt out” at a click of a button.

My thinking wasn’t by any means based on any logic/information, and after discussing this matter with my friends and acquaintances, I’ve found that I wasn’t alone. Most people I spoke to had no idea where those fingerprints would end up, but gave them to Apple anyway.

This got me thinking: Why was it so much harder to “give away” my fingerprints to the government, than it was to Apple? Why are many of us so suspicious of our governments, yet somehow, are more lenient with Apple and all other Multination Tech Corporations?

I had to get to the bottom of this.

Lesson II: Governments Charge for Freedom

It seems we weren’t entirely wrong in assuming Apple were “okay”. Lucky for us, Apple has stated that:

“Fingerprint data is encrypted, stored on device, and protected with a key available only to the Secure Enclave… [it is] used only by the Secure Enclave to verify that the fingerprint matches the enrolled fingerprint data… It can’t be accessed by the OS on the device or by any applications running it… It’s never stored on Apple servers, it’s never backed up to iCloud or anywhere else, and it can’t be used to match against other fingerprint databases.”

In short, Apple doesn’t store our fingerprints, and in case you were wondering, this is true for Google (Android) users as well.

As it would seem, both companies maintain this feature to make it more difficult for others to access our device. Circuitously, Apple and Google seem to care about our privacy and appear to have taken a fair amount of security measures to make sure our data is safe. They may not be saints (let’s face it, they do this to make money) but like it or not, by placing our interests as a top priority, they are essentially gaining our trust.

Governments on the other hand? That’s a different story.

Fast forward to mid 2018 when I needed to renew my passport:

Where I live, the government recently switched over to biometric passports, requiring everyone to register in the system upon renewal. If you wanted a passport for ten years, you had to give the government consent to save your fingerprints, and if you chose to opt-out, you’d still have to provide the prints, but they wouldn’t save them in the system. The catch with the second option is that choosing to opt-out of the system, meant you were only allowed you to renew your passport for five years instead of ten. And no, opting for a five year passport does not reduce the price.

While some might say that renewing your passport after five years instead of ten, is a small price to pay, but I say ain’t nobody got time for that

Eventually (after much deliberation, might I add), I opted for the ten year plan but not before feeling more vulnerable and cornered than ever. I can honestly say that I felt like I was selling-out and jeopardizing the most unique feature of my body, just for the purpose of not paying for another passport again in five years.

You know who didn’t make me do that? Apple.

Let’s review:

  • Apple/Android: Optional biometric system. Can choose to opt out and use a regular password instead. The phone (albeit expensive) will cost the same either way, but most importantly, your fingerprints are not saved anywhere.
  • Passports where I live (and perhaps other countries): Give us your fingerprints no matter what. If you let us keep your prints, you get a passport for ten years. If you don’t, we take your prints for verification, “delete” them from our system, but you only get a passport for five years. Oh, and they’ll cost the same too.

So you tell me, who is more worthy to hold the most unique feature of the human body?

And don’t get me started on who’s got better cyber-security knowledge.

Lesson III: In Competition We Trust

Remember when I said earlier that somehow, placing trust in Apple was easier? Well, I think it’s because we see the logic in their actions, even if we don’t know we do. After all, it’s not the first time they “got” something better than the state (more on this in future articles).

If I had to pinpoint it, I guess I would say that governments are too sure of their place and can afford to act as they please. Sure, there’s the UN and other human rights organizations, but no matter where we place our trust, the government’s survival is practically guaranteed. Unlike Apple or Android, governments are not immersed in competition… For now.

Ultimately, if we look back, we can identify two features Apple/Google have that states often don’t:

  • Efficiency
  • Our best interest as a priority (even if it’s just to make a profit)

Perhaps governments are too sure of their place nowadays and naturally, let our trust and satisfaction slip from their prime concerns. Unfortunately for them, however, care and efficiency matter too.

If simply saying it isn’t enough, perhaps governments should bear in mind that our world is no stranger to revolutions, and that even the Roman Empire was conquered.

If nothing more, governments need to realize that although Neo-Technologism is now just an idea, “Ideas are bulletproof.”

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2 Comments to “Do You Trust Apple and Google More Than Your Government?”

  1. Vincent says:

    There is definitely a point worth exploring regarding trust in Government (and other institutions) and efficiency. But seriously, big techs are acting in “our best interest as priority” ? Seriously? We must have a totally different “best interest” understanding then.

    Take the *public interest* perspective. When did any of these multinational companies intiate anything related to *public interest*? Regulation is a mechanism that States (and other institutions and collectivities) use when an activity is showing signs of being dangerous for the public. Regulations are slow and complex. Is that inefficiency ? Is regulating tobacco an inefficiency? Are all pharma companies acting solely in our best interest?

    There is even no need to mention any of the data abuse scandals of the last 18 months to make the point.

    • Keren says:

      Hi! Thank you for your comment. I can definitely see where you’re coming from, but I stand by what I said. Here’s why:
      I’ll start off by saying that other than a moral obligation (which is very important), these multinational tech corporations are service providers. The fact that we’re starting to expect more of them, shows we’re becoming more reliant on them. We’re not necessarily right to have these expectations because as a customer, you can simply choose not to use their products/platforms. Nevertheless, with their power and impact on society, it makes sense, and I think they are beginning to realize too.
      Now that that’s out of the way, tech Giants want you to be happy. They want you to continue to purchase their products and/or use their platforms. Thus, they *have to* have your best interest as a priority, or else they wouldn’t be able to continue to do what they’re doing (Unlike Governments).
      Your interests are their priority not because they’re saints, but because there’s no other way to scale and profit.
      Take Zuckerberg’s latest privacy-related statement, for example, Facebook is making huge changes because people aren’t happy. They certainly have *a lot* of work to do, but I presume these changes will come very soon because something in their current policy isn’t working. A government, on the other hand, does n’t have that same urgency. They won’t lose citizens (i.e. there is no “competition”)
      Furthermore, I do think tech companies are doing a lot for the public. Their products and platforms serve us, we are the product. The fact that they’re making money off of it may be what’s keeping us from seeing it, but their products and platforms bring a lot of good to the world, too. The more they expand, the more power they have, and the more responsibility they take on.
      Some examples:
      – The Gates Foundation, for example, paid off Nigeria’s Polio debt.
      – From 2009-2017, Apple, Microsoft, and Google registered several health-related patents.
      – Apple invests in schools and education
      -Facebook has special programs for veterans
      – Alphabet established a medical research organization named “Verily” who aims to “Create tools that put health data into action”
      I think you get the point.
      Sure they have their problems (there’s definitely a lot more they can do in terms of data and privacy), but do you honestly believe that they’re investing so much of their time and resources just for themselves? There are other ways to make money.
      Slowly but surely, they are realizing how powerful they are and with that, they are starting to compensate for what the states can’t accomplish.
      Regulation is important, but tech companies prove that there are ways to achieve better results, all the while cutting the exhausting bureaucratic processes in half. If a tech company can build an empire in 15 years, so can States, but they don’t have that same urgency, so they simply don’t. Their lack of efficiency ultimately causes us harm.
      Bottom line–I think balance is key. This is the situation today. This is where the world is heading and we need to make the best of it. They need to collaborate and cooperate because this head-to-head isn’t serving anyone.

      Anyway, I sincerely appreciate the time you took to read my article and present your opinion! If you wish to continue this discussion, feel free to e-mail me and I’ll be happy to continue to keep the debate going 🙂

      Have a great rest of the day!