Consumer trust and loyalty are critical elements to the success of any brand. For companies dealing with sensitive consumer data including financial institutions and tech companies, consumer trust goes hand in hand with brand survival.
Not only do these companies have a legal responsibility to uphold customer security and privacy, they have a moral responsibility to customers to whom this security is promised. If this security is breached, then trust is lost.
For this reason, trust, more than any other factor, is truly at the heart of the current Apple versus FBI legal controversy. The FBI served Apple with a court order to unlock an iPhone owned by Syed Farook. Farook and his wife are believed responsible for killing 14 people in San Bernardino, California in December. They themselves were killed by law enforcement to end the killing spree.
However, it seems that unlocking the iPhone for law enforcement is not as simple as it sounds. Not to mention that Apple is arguing that if they could unlock Farook’s phone, doing so would be a breach of personal security, not to mention customer trust.
Apple’s Enhanced Security Features Protect Data on Farook’s iPhone
The fact is that Apple doesn’t currently have the technology to unlock Farook’s iPhone. The company released a software update in 2014 in which data on Apple devices has been encrypted by default. This data includes text messages and photographs.
This software update actually prevents anyone without the owner’s four-digit pass code – including Apple – from accessing the iPhone’s data. To complicate things for the FBI the iPhone will automatically erase all of its data if 10 incorrect attempts at the pass code are made.
What the FBI Wants From Apple
The FBI is asking Apple to change the phone’s settings so unlimited attempts can be made at Farook’s code without erasing the data. The FBI is also asking that Apple create a solution to allow investigators to quickly try different code combinations (instead of having to tap each possible combination into the phone manually).
Apple has not only refused to comply with this court order, they have brought the issue to Congress who is now reviewing it and the wider implications that the FBI’s request will have on tech companies who protect customer privacy and data through the nature of their business.
Whether or not you agree with Apple’s stance (or the FBI’s request), the fact of the matter is that Congress’ response will impact the relationship between customers and brands in the United States and beyond, especially in regards to trust.
If Apple is forced to comply with the FBI then it would be naive for customers to assume that brands have the power to protect consumer data stored in phones, on public networks or elsewhere.
Putting the good intentions of brands like Apple aside, if Apple is forced to manipulate Farook’s phone so the government can access his data then the implication is that they may be forced to share anyone’s information with the government or other third parties.
Further, should Congress uphold the FBI’s court order then what would be the point for technology companies like Apple, Microsoft or Google to continue to invest resources in providing enhanced security features for their products?
The decision that Congress makes on this case also has national security implications. Congress asked FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday whether China or Russia could “follow the US’s lead in compelling Apple to provide access to customer data.” Comey responded that he has “no doubt there are internal implications.”
For tech brands like Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and Google the security, marketing and operational implications of this decision will be far-reaching, which is why many related tech companies are filing amicus briefs, which “allow parties not directly involved in a court case, but who feel they are affected by it, to give their view,” BBC News explains.
Some of the marketing implications for these brands could possibly include:
- An unwillingness to create and sell enhanced security features with products
- A need to modify products so that data is no longer housed or kept in devices or in “the cloud” but instead on a person’s privately owned and secured device
- A need to find creative ways to reinvent the brand in an effort to maintain brand loyalty.
Some experts have recently pointed to the possibility that Apple’s decision to challenge the FBI’s court order could be a sophisticated marketing technique which would align the company more closely with their loyal consumer base – a demographic who are arguably anti-establishment. If this were true, Apple’s decision to challenge the FBI could actually strengthen their consumer’s loyalty to the Apple brand.
However, Apple has officially denied this suggestion. “Apple says the objection is ‘absolutely not’ based on the company’s concern for its ‘marketing strategy,’ as the U.S. Department of Justice opined last week, but rather about ensuring ‘the vast majority of good and law abiding citizens, who rely on iPhone to protect their most personal and important data’ are not at risk,” MacRumours reports.
Ultimately for marketers, businesses and consumers alike it’s worthwhile to follow this story as it unfolds. The outcome will certainly have an impact on the future of business and the role that security and privacy will play in consumer trust and loyalty.