You’ll often read articles with headlines like this which end up being long-winded to dance around a question before ultimately leading anti-climatic answer. Let me skip that and get to where this whole thing ends.
No. Apple is beyond enormous and security flaws like the Facetime bug this week are just something we have to accept as a side effect of the brilliant technological convenience we are privileged to enjoy these days. Should it have been avoided? Yes. Will things like this happen again? Absolutely, and we need to accept that.
Now, for the long winded dance I was talking about.
The Apple Facetime Bug
If you’re an Apple user, you’ve more than likely been sweating over the news that a bug in Facetime group calls meant people could listen into your phone without you knowing anything about it. Actually, if you’re an Android user, you probably heard about this issue too and were quite smug about it. Come on. Don’t be that person.
The bug was a very unusual one for two reasons. First of all, Apple prides themselves on both security and privacy, so them slipping up is a massive jaw-dropper. Secondly, the bug needed users to take a very weird action to discover it. But, as with most bugs, it’s a lot less unusual once you hear what you needed to do.
To listen in on another person’s iPhone, all you needed to do was start a Facetime call with them. Once dialling, you simply try to add another caller and add yourself. Then, without any further action from your target, you could listen in on their device. If they were to hit the volume button, you get a full video feed.
How Did This Happen?
How this happened is very simple. I’m a massive Android fan. For years, I’ve been beating a drum that sounds something like “Apple is over-priced and under-innovative”. I’m not alone, but still millions upon millions of shoppers hand over money for Apple. Why?
Well, to coin Steve Jobs’ own famous line, “it just works”. iPhone is simple and it just works really well. If you want straight forward, iPhone is the phone for you. And that’s why millions upon millions of people do choose iPhone every year for every upgrade.
Back to how this Facetime bug happened. Apple is run by thousands of humans. The end.
Seriously, we all need to accept that even one of the world’s biggest tech companies is going to make mistakes. For a release to go to millions of devices, it needs to go through an incredibly complex testing process to check for security issues and bugs. Throughout all these processes, no one thought to see what would happen if you tried to start a group Facetime call and then add yourself.
Should Things Like This Really Happen?
Absolutely not. Will they happen again? Absolutely. It’s unavoidable because Apple is run by thousands of humans, of which some are testers. But once that version of the software that runs iPhone is out in the wild, millions of people are looking at it. People do odd things, both on purpose and by accident which turns up problems from time to time. That’s why we get so many updates. The difference with regular updates is it’s internal testing that often turns this stuff up, not bugs out in the wild.
Unfortunately for Apple, headlines also happened. Hell, I couldn’t even resist an Apple crumble reference in the title of this article.
When you’re one of the top-selling consumer gadgets in the world, everyone wants to see you fail
When you’re one of the top-selling consumer gadgets in the world, everyone wants to see you fail. Papers and websites (ourselves here at Goosed.ie included) know that people want to know about this kind of thing and they go heavy on the coverage. For me, as much as I’m not a massive fan of iPhone, this was the time for a reality check, mainly because Apple is far from being alone here.
Samsung Galaxy Note 7
I remember being at the Irish launch of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 in Dublin and I fell in love with it. It was the most impressive phone I’d ever seen. But after an August launch, the phone was dead in the water come October.
Following battery issues and a few phones going up in flames, the Note 7 had garnered such a bad name for itself, airlines would no longer let passengers board with them. Yup, that’s about as toxic a PR situation as a phone maker could find themselves in.
What caused this? Samsung found themselves rushing to meet deadlines. Everyone single one of us has likely come up against a tough deadline in work which has lead to some questionable decision making. That’s humans for you. Even one of the best-known PR disasters came down to what was effectively human error.
Two years on, Samsung has released two new phones in the Note series and they’ve been mightily impressive.
Facebook: Cambridge Analytica
Ah Facebook. How quickly that fall from grace came. The Cambridge Analytica scandal is very well documented at this stage. Third parties using innocent-looking Facebook apps to harvest user data and to influence massive world events including the election of Donald Trump and Brexit.
Again, Cambridge Analytica wasn’t the result of the machines rising up. No, this whole thing came down to humans. On one side, we have the more evil than not people behind Cambridge Analytica who effectively weaponised a social media platform.
On the other side, you have Facebook. Facebook didn’t necessarily stand idly by while all this was happening. Instead, they were, to a certain extent, unaware of how bad things were. Sure, they knew about some issues of data being passed to third parties and there were some gaps in their security protocols, and yes they absolutely should have done more. But the powers that be in Facebook had no idea just how much damage was being done with these security issues.
Like Samsung, Facebook seems to be surviving their PR nightmare. Can any big tech company be taken down by controversy?
Huawei and Chinese Spy Theory
When you think big tech companies, you think Apple, Samsung, Google and Facebook. I haven’t gone into the issues Google had over the past twelve months, but their Google Plus platform has security issues akin to those of Facebook. The unholy quartet of tech companies running into problems in recent times. But now, we can’t talk about massive tech companies without discussing Huawei. Nor can we talk about tech controversy without shining a light on the Chinese phone manufacturer.
Huawei shot to the rich and famous smartphone maker list in 2018 thanks to their incredible P20 Pro and Mate 20 Pro smartphones. In fact, their 2018 was so good, they overtook Apple to become the second biggest smartphone manufacturer in the world. Like, that’s huge!
Then, in almost soap-opera fashion, with everything flying high, accusations began to emerge about Huawei.
First, Meng Wanzhou – Huawei CFO and daughter of the company’s founder, was arrested on suspicion of bank and wire fraud in an attempt to violate American sanctions against Iran. Now, the US government has just made public their exact claims against Huawei but I’ve my own opinions on this.
I find it very convenient that these accusations come out from the US after the Chinese manufacturer knocks the American Apple off second spot. Sure, you can’t even buy Huawei in America because they’re all so paranoid about them. It might be some tinfoil hat stuff from me, but it all seems strangely timed. Then again, just because you’re not paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.
Should We Be Worried About Huawei?
Now this is the big question. I’ve been using Huawei as my daily driver for nearly a year now. They have come a long way in a short period of time. That’s just for smartphones. Huawei also develops the technology that runs mobile networks and was planning to play a big part in 5G rollouts globally. In a recent interview, telecoms expert Mark Gregory described Australia’s ban on using Huawei for 5G as “unfair”, before highlighting “There’s no direct evidence that I’m aware of that Huawei has been involved in security breaches or state espionage”.
I’ll admit, I’ve worked rather closely with Huawei but I refuse to let that colour my view. However, after watching Vice recently, I’m under no illusions at just how drunk power makes world leaders. It’s just as likely this is all a smear campaign as it is Huawei has done something wrong.
How Huawei will fair is still TBC. But given their progress to date and understanding how the US government works, I’d be very surprised if the Chinese mobile maker is even close to losing momentum.
And the Apple Bug?
Hopefully, that didn’t all sound like a completely mad rant and I’ve set myself up here to explain my stance on the Apple bug thing. Unfortunately, these things happen. It’s all part and parcel of our new technological life. It’s a side effect of the convenience. We get to enjoy video calling in groups but sometimes there might be a bug. Remember though, that bug will be fixed so don’t lose your life when it appears.
Facebook. Man, they screwed up and I really can’t forgive them for some of the mistakes they made. Still, they are a relatively young company in an industry that’s the exact same age as them. They are learning on the fly, so again, we have to accept that some things are going to go wrong from time to time.
People are generally apprehensive about technology. I get it. It’s new and scary and it provides lots of scary groups with your data. But we need to be focused on what we can do to protect ourselves while these companies go about their business because accidents will keep happening. Use password managers, use different passwords and while you’re at it start using passphrases altogether. If there’s a platform or a company you really don’t like the look of, don’t use them. Beyond that, don’t get caught in the hype.
With the example of Huawei, potentially unfounded paranoia could be costing a lot of consumers money and quality network experience. Already, I’d argue that the US stance on Huawei has cost a lot of people access to great smartphones.
Isn’t That A Free Pass?
No. Companies need to be held accountable for their actions and mistakes. But if we keep focusing on failures, innovations become fewer and farther between and that’s not good. We need to find a happy medium with our technology providers and develop a mutual trust. Facebook is skating on thin ice because they’ve had several knockbacks, but Apple should come through this issue relatively easily. Why? Because they have made massive efforts to protect privacy so far. The least we owe them is a shot to clear it up and not just a raft of headlines.
We’re largely in the unknown with tech. It’s a great big dark expanse that we’re all plodding along through, blindfolded for good measure. Look after your own privacy, pick your tech carefully but also, look beyond the surface of how people talk about tech. How many people told you they’d delete their Facebook account but still they like your posts.