Apple’s New Ad Campaign Goes All the Way To Washington

Apple’s new marketing campaign could drastically affect data privacy policy in the U.S.

Data privacy is a growing concern on many of our minds, but the global tech giant is now making it a commercial priority. If their previous market success is any indication of what is to come, the issue is about to grip a massive audience that may have never looked beyond the company’s sleek styling and easy-to-use products.

You might have seen Apple’s new ad campaign featuring three second scenarios of various people announcing their intimate information in public places. The kind of information that is usually confined to search bars and private texts. Apple’s new message for their audience is “Some things shouldn’t be shared.”

The ad’s tone is still lighthearted, but the topic is a significant leap from the dancing technicolor silhouettes, the shot on iPhone movies, and the “Hey, Siri” spotlights that we’ve seen this past decade.

The marketing shift toward preserving data privacy indicates that public interest over the issue has reached a critical mass. Apple’s marketing influence has strong potential to shift the political conversation that has built up around encryption – the technology that scrambles information and makes your digital data private.

The preposterous examples in Apple’s new ad campaign contrast sharply against the seriousness of their brief legal battle following the devastating San Bernardino shootings in 2015. Apple drew praise and criticism for refusing to work with the FBI when they requested Apple develop software that could unlock the iPhone owned by the shooter.

The FBI insisted they needed what was on the phone to investigate the terrorist act and prevent any possible follow up. Apple insisted they couldn’t unlock one phone without jeopardizing every phone they’ve ever sold.

Considering Apple sold over 200 million phones worldwide in 2016, the potential for overreach is significant. As is the negative commercial impact of breaching user trust. Our brief digital history has also shown that once such a vulnerability is created or exposed, it is only a matter of time before the power leaks to more nefarious actors who will exploit whatever information they can for whatever purpose they choose.

With this recent ad campaign, it seems Apple is doubling down on their position.

The company’s message comes at a time when members of the “Five Eyes” – an intelligence partnership between government agencies in the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United Kingdom – continue to press tech giants like Apple over concern that their technology puts citizens and societies at risk.

Encryption is essential for maintaining secure communications and transactions online, which in turn empowers our freedom of speech. It secures the public against unchecked surveillance states and our new surveillance economy. And it helps extend the spirit of our fourth amendment to digital space

The problem is encryption also empowers illicit activity like childhood sexual exploitation, terrorism, and extortion. Unlike comparable analogs – like a private home or a locked safe – encrypted data cannot be decoded and obtained with a search warrant – the standard procedure in search and seizure law

Unfortunately for the Five Eyes, forcing Apple to provide access to encrypted phones won’t solve the issue. There are numerous alternatives outside their jurisdiction and bad actors can easily go elsewhere.

If Apple does expand the conversation to the masses, we might finally see a more honest and robust discussion around the issue. Policymakers should stop politicizing data privacy while ignoring the reality of the technology. They should limit new policy efforts to mandating consistent reporting by tech companies and reinforce support for the organizations and companies already fighting the problem.