In the second article on corporate maleficence, I will be taking a look at the Apple Inc.
Apple has shown itself to be a complete poodle when it comes to its relationship with China. During the recent mass demonstrations in Hong Kong, it pulled a crowd-sourced app from it's App Store which allowed users to track the locations of both Police and demonstrators. Apple’s basis for this was that the app encouraged illegal activity, thereby violating their guidelines as well as local laws. This, unsurprisingly, was after a vitriolic piece in the People’s Daily (the mouthpiece newspaper of the Communist Party) stating that “Letting poisonous software have its way is a betrayal of the Chinese people’s feelings”.
The developers of the app did, and rightly so, take a very different view, tweeting that there was no evidence of any such wrongdoing. Even Tim Cook (Apple's CEO) did not come up with any specific evidence to support his theory that the app was being used in a malicious way. Rather than putting the blame squarely on its own 'values', Apple should have had the balls to point the finger at the Chinese authorities and the pressure it was applying. Wishful thinking, I guess.
This kowtowing by Apple and pandering to China’s political regime, totally ignores the fact that there were those in Hong Kong who used the app to actually avoid the chaos in an attempt to get to work and make a living. Mothers also did not want their kids to be teargassed by accident so they too could have been using the app. It would have been far better to consider the root causes of the demonstrations than try to fix the perceived issue by pulling the app.
From all of this you can see that Apple finds itself in a difficult position vis-a-vis China. Unlike Google, which temporarily pulled out in 2010 but still managed without that market, Apple needs China for its manufacturing base and also for it being a vast source of gadget-hungry consumers eager to purchase their products. So what China says, Apple does. Many apps in the Chinese App Store have fallen victim to the authoritarian regime’s demands, such as The New York Times app, over 400 VPN apps, Skype and recently the Quartz news app. With the acquiescence of Apple, anything that upsets China gets the chop!
Now, what if something goes wrong with your Apple device? Woe betide anyone who takes their phone to the guy in the mall to get it fixed. In a blatant disregard for the interests of the consumer, your Apple device will no longer function if it senses that 3rd party repair work has been done. You need to get it fixed at the Authorized Dealer and pay through the nose for the privilege. Land of the Free? I don’t think so...
Apple also, until the most recent update, tracked your location even when you switched off the phone, even when you had all the trackers switched off. The chip is designed to bypass these and if a government or anyone else ask for the location of an iPhone 11 and upwards Apple has the option to activate it and track you! We are not saying they do, but the possibility is there, it's a 'feature' not a privacy invasion though ;)
Back in 2015 Apple certainly impressed us after the mass shooting in San Bernadino, California when the FBI asked Apple to open one of the shooter’s phones but they refused, arguing that the request to create a new version of iOS and side load it into the phone would create a very dangerous backdoor. Apple stood their ground, giving us all the impression that our data would always be safe on their devices.
Ironically though, after all of this hullabaloo, come 2016 the FBI were able to crack it anyway without any help from Apple. This could have come about with the assistance of Celebrite, an Israeli security company which has been working with the FBI and ICE for some years. Seems Apple phones are not as secure as we thought.
Apple’s mantra since then has been “we sell devices, not data”. But is this really true and have Apple now in fact strayed from the path of righteousness? Are Apple really taking care of the interests of you, the consumer?
Some Privacy improvements can be achieved!
If you are worried about your data being sold to advertisers luckily there is a fix for that.
Settings --> Privacy --> Advertising
To limit ad tracking
Reset Advertising Identifier (do this every 20 or so days, as it takes up to one month for the advertisers to track and analyze you anyway!)
Settings --> Privacy --> Analytics & Improvements
Share iPhone/iPad Analytics (Off)
Improve Siri & Dictation (Off)
Share iCloud Analytics (Off)
Settings --> Privacy --> Location Services (Off) but before you switch this off click System Services and swicth every option off, except rge very last Status Bar Icon
Please also have a look to the
Privacy Cookbook Chapter 5.1 - Cellphone Security - iOS (for more fine tuning)
Privacy Cookbook - Chapter 2.2 - DNSCloak (to block and encrypt traffic & analytics)
Privacy Cookbook - Chapter 2.1 - nextDNS (the easiest way to block and encrypt traffic & analytics)
Privacy Cookbook - Chapter 3 - Ad and bad traffic filtering
There are filters optimized for iOS devices
iOS Paranoid - Blocks most Apple Analytics and requests (Push and App Store works)
Apple & iOS - Apple Telemetary
iOS Ads - Careful - might block more than you want! We use it!
AdGuard Safari - Safari Browser Ads
We also recommend adding these filters:
CHEFKOCH - NSA Blocklist
CHEFKOCH - Canvas font fingerprinting
CHEFKOCH - Audio fingerprinting
CHEFKOCH - Canvas fingerprinting
CHEFKOCH - Trackers
CHEFKOCH - Facebook
StevenBlack - with the fakenews, gambling and social extensions
Google - Blocks all Google domains and services
Facebook & FB - Blocks Facebook and its Apps
The rot seemed to start with iMessage when cryptographers raised issues about vulnerabilities and the fact that such weaknesses could allow remote decryption of messages. Admittedly, this could only be achieved by a sophisticated attacker but they did make some convincing arguments and recommended a complete replacement of the system.
If you use Siri, you can also be exposing personal information to third parties because Apple’s contractors have really been listening in. Basically, people are paid to review recordings in an effort to figure out if the system was responding to a genuine inquiry or if it was a false positive. Siri certainly needs to be fine tuned but one previous contractor has revealed that he overheard conversations about people’s private lives and worse. Apple does admit in its Privacy Page that certain information such as your name, contacts, music choices and searches will be sent to Apple’s servers using encryption. There is no mention, however, of humans monitoring what you say. Only when pushed by journalists did they admit to a small portion of interactions with Siri being analyzed. It’s common knowledge that Alexa and Google Assistant are both at it as well but these companies, including Apple, should have been upfront from the onset as to the extent of these activities.
You now have with one of the recent updates the option to opt-out of the Siri data collection and delete what Apple has on file. BUT Apple deletes 6 month of your Siri requests, but has the right to keep 2 years of it regardless!
You may recall that Apple had a great billboard ad just prior to the CES 2019 show: “What happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone”. Nice concept...if it were true. The Washington Post, no less, has discovered that during the night iPhones are sending out huge amounts of data from apps. There is an impressive list as to where just some of it goes: Microsoft OneDrive, Intuit’s Mint, Nike, Spotify, IBM’s The Weather Channel and, ironically, also to the Washington Post. The privacy firm Disconnect which ran the tests for the Post, estimated that a total of 1.5 gigabytes of data would flow from that particular iPhone in a space of 1 month.
Disconnect in turn have developed an app called Privacy Pro to identify and block trackers and users would be well advised to use it. Apple does make an effort to restrict the access of apps to certain parts of the phone such as camera, microphone, location, photos and contacts. However, it is sadly lacking in terms of what it does with apps to which we provide data. Apple relies upon those apps themselves to highlight their privacy policies to users but this is evidently not working as none of us would want to share such a vast amount of data had the app developers brought this issue to our attention.
Somehow the FBI has managed to strong arm Apple into not allowing users to fully encrypt backups in the iCloud as this would “harm investigations”. Apparently, this happened a couple of years back but went unreported until Reuters were able to come up with the story. So it appears that Apple, whilst supposedly championing our right to privacy and protecting our freedoms, are now unwilling to offer secure storage. The plan two years ago was in fact to have end-to-end encrypted storage but FBI objections have since swayed Apple to take the opposite tack.
President Trump’s pronouncement of Apple protecting “killers, drug dealers and other violent criminal elements” would have further weakened the company’s resolve, hence the back peddling. In the first half of last year, there were regular court orders asking for device backups or iCloud content in 1,568 cases covering 6,000 accounts. Moreover, secret US Intelligence court directives requested information on about 18,000 accounts during the same period. Had Apple stuck to its original plan of end-to-end encryption, then absolutely nothing could have been handed over. So far no comment from either Apple or the FBI on this policy change.
Working conditions violations have never been a big concern for Apple as it dates back so far it is commonplace! And numerous pieces have appeared over the years exposing these and data manipulation. Below are a selection of some of these, just to give you a flavor for their 'hidden' corporate culture:
In 2011 KrebsOnSecurity reported - Apple Took 3+ Years to Fix FinFisher Trojan Hole
In 2011 BusinessInsider reported - IT'S OFFICIAL: Apple Has Brainwashed The Whole Country -- How Else To Explain The Lack Of Outrage Over Apple's Secret Location Tracking?
In 2013 QZ reported - How to make cheap iPhones and undercut Foxconn: 12-hour workdays, unpaid overtime and no holidays
In 2013 TheWashingtonPost reported - Research shows how MacBook Webcams can spy on their users without warning
In 2014 MacWorld reported - Researchers challenge Apple's claim of unbreakable iMessage encryption
In 2014 The BBC reported - Apple 'failing to protect Chinese factory workers'
In 2014 Wired reported - The Police Tool That Pervs Use to Steal Nude Pics From Apple's iCloud
In 2014 FSecure discovered - Bob and Alice Discover a Mac OPSEC Issue
Corpus of data automatically shared with Apple by a standard installation of OS X Yosemite.
Most vulnerable operating systems and applications in 2014
In 2014 TheDailyDot reported - Apple warned of iCloud brute-force vulnerability 6 months before Celebgate
In 2014 HackerNews reported - Undocumented iOS Features left Hidden Backdoors Open in 600 Million Apple Devices
In 2014 NRP reported - Apple Upgrade Tracks Customers Even When Marketing Apps Are Off
In 2015 Forbes reported - Ex-NSA Researcher Finds Sneaky Way Past Apple Mac's Gatekeeper
In 2015 Forbes reported - Apple begins storing users' personal data on servers in China
In 2015 Arstechnica reported - Attacks accessing Mac keychain without permission date back to 2011
In 2015 MacIssues reported - Safari bug saves Web page URLs in Private mode
In 2015 HackerNews reported - Apple Admits Siri Voice Data is Being shared with Third Parties
In 2015 Zit Seng's Blog posted - The Mac Facilitates Spying Too
In 2016 QZ reported -NOT FOXCONN Apple is under fire for “excessive overtime” and illegal working conditions in another Chinese factory
In 2016 Forbes reported - Latest Foxconn Worker Deaths Build Case For Apple To Move Operations From China
In 2017 an Article of the Guardian shows about some other practices of Apple and its factories and partners - Life and death in Apple’s forbidden city
"unhappy workers started killing themselves"Article on TheGuardian 2017
2017 Article supporting with circumstantial evidence the possibility of Apple mass spying on its users.
in 2018 ABCnet Australia reported - My phone is spying on me, so I decided to spy on it
Apple Inc. and manufacturing partner Foxconn violated a Chinese labor rule by using too many temporary staff in the world’s largest iPhone factory, the companies confirmed following a report that also alleged harsh working conditions.2019 Bloomberg Report
Horror stories about Foxconn and Apple can be
found all over the internet, so we stop at this point with the links,
but also like to link to other articles surrounding Apple
The BBC October 2019 - Apple bans Hong Kong protest location app
MacRumors reported at the same time - Apple Pulls Hong Kong Protest App From App Store Following Chinese Criticism
NewYorkTimes 2019 - Apple Removes App That Helps Hong Kong Protesters Track the Police
TheNextWeb reported 2020 - The FBI is cracking iPhone 11s without Apple’s help, so why does it need a backdoor?
SubStack February 2020 - One very bad Apple - Why is Apple's commitment to privacy going down the drain?
Chosen Ciphertext Attacks on Apple iMessage
The Verge reported in 2019 - Apple’s hired contractors are listening to your recorded Siri conversations, too
Interesting discussion about facebook and others apps capabilities inside iOS, take it with a grain of salt.
The Guardian reported in 2019 - Apple contractors 'regularly hear confidential details' on Siri recordings
The Washington Post in 2019 - It’s the middle of the night. Do you know who your iPhone is talking to?
Reuters January 2020 - Exclusive: Apple dropped plan for encrypting backups after FBI complained - sources
9to5mac October 2019 - Opinion: Apple’s relationship with China is turning into a massive liability
Slate run a great article in early 2020 - Against the Cult of Apple
February 2020 the BBC reported - Apple fined for slowing down old iPhones
And this is just a small selection!!!
Apple's headquarters is in Cupertino, California.
Apple has a revenue of $260.1749B, and 130700 employees as of 2019.
Anobit Technologies, Ltd. is an Israeli fabless designer of flash memory controllers. They were acquired by Apple in 2012 as they were the maker of a flash-memory drive component for the iPhone.
Apple Energy, LLC is a wholly owned subsidiary of Apple Inc. that sells solar energy. As of June 6, 2016, Apple's solar farms in California and Nevada have been declared to provide 217.9 megawatts of solar generation capacity. In addition to the company's solar energy production, Apple has received regulatory approval to construct a landfill gas energy plant in North Carolina. Apple will use the methane emissions to generate electricity. Apple's North Carolina data center is already powered entirely with energy from renewable sources.
Apple IMC is an independent company given the title of "Independent Marketing Company" authorized to be a distributor for the computer manufacturer Apple Inc.
Apple Sales International is headquartered in Ireland. The company's line of business includes the manufacturing of computer peripheral equipment.
Beats Electronics LLC (also known as Beats by Dr. Dre, or simply Beats by Dre) is a subsidiary of Apple Inc. that produces audio products. Headquartered in Culver City, California, the company was founded by music producer and rapper Dr. Dre and Interscope Records co-founder Jimmy Lovine.
Beddit Oy (formerly Finsor Oy) is a Finnish-based technology company that makes sleep-tracking devices and a sleep-tracking app to help monitor sleep. The company was founded in October 2006 and was acquired by Apple in May 2017.
Braeburn Capital Inc. is an asset management company based in Reno, Nevada and a subsidiary of Apple Inc. Its offices are located at 6900 S. McCarran Boulevard in Reno.
Apple TV+ is an over-the-top ad-free subscription video on demand web television service of Apple Inc. that debuted on November 1, 2019.
Claris International Inc., formerly FileMaker Inc., is a computer software development company formed as a spin-off from Apple Computer (now Apple Inc.) in 1987. It was given the source code and copyrights to several programs that were owned by Apple, notably MacWrite and MacPaint, in order to separate Apple's application software activities from its hardware and operating systems activities.
Shazam is an application owned and developed by Apple Inc. The application can identify music, movies, advertising and television shows, based on a short sample played and using the microphone on the device. The software is available for Android, macOS, iOS, watchOS, tvOS and Windows.
Texture (previously known as Next Issue) was a digital magazine app launched in 2012. The service had a monthly subscription fee that gave readers access to over 200 magazines.
Please feel free to comment and send us more links about Apple's unethical practices or privacy invasions. We taking on Alphabet next, so send us an email if you have anything to share.