The Electronic Foundations Frontier (EFF) has come out against Apple with guns blazing, citing the computer giant’s closed systems and “crystal prison” as being the stuff from which blogger Jihad is born. The EFF is a non-profit group that champions freedom of speech, fair use, innovation and privacy in the tech world, seeking out those who impinge upon freedoms as they pertain to digital media and copyright. Their issue with Apple is the closed system of iOS and, to a lesser degree, OS X. As many will tell you, iOS is a mobile operating system with many limitations and restrictions, and the EFF strenuously believes things should be different. They refer to iOS devices as “crystal prisons” and seem to attribute not merely Apple’s direct work as part of the problem, but also blame Apple for what carriers are doing as well.
Here’s a taste of the overall message:
Apple changed the way we think about mobile computing with the iPhone, but they have also lead the charge in creating restrictive computers and restrictive marketplaces for software. You may have purchased an iPad, but unless you’ve exploited a vulnerability in iOS to jailbreak it, there are many things you cannot install on it. The App Store has thousands of apps to choose from, but your choices are limited to apps that both Apple has approved, and which can function without “root” or “administrator” privileges.
I will confess that five years after the iPhone and its app ecosystem have been introduced to the world, I’ve just about had enough of the histrionic grandstanding about Apple’s alleged campaign against personal freedom. Richard Stallman, the EFF and Andy Rubin have rattled their sabres for quite long enough. It’s time to move on.
Why? Because I have never seen an attack on Apple’s iOS system that has accurately represented the nature of Apple’s closed system, nor the virtuous character of the competition. The EFF criticizes features from the yet-unreleased Mountain Lion operating system (such as Gatekeeper) for restrictive behavior despite the fact that it can be turned completely off by the user. They also concede that opening iOS could potentially make the OS vulnerable to malware, but that Apple has not been perfect in its defense of iOS by citing an instance of malware that penetrated the App Store and found its way to users. Meanwhile, Android malware has increased by 3000 percent in the past 12 months.
Critics would have Apple open every element of iOS and yet have no realistic or workable solution for security or malware issues. Even the EFF forgets that Google itself has had to remove dozens of apps remotely from Android devices due to serious breaches in security. Where are those apps obtained? From the Android Marketplace. Now, we see Google Play — a closed system that restricts or bans software at Google’s discretion — coming into focus as the new alternative. Can an Android user opt-out of Google Play if they don’t care for the restrictions? Not without jailbreaking their phone. “Open”, indeed.
And don’t even get me started on what carriers do to Android phones.
But all that aside, I take the most offense from those who wish to position Apple and iOS as a human rights issue. “Open” vs “Closed” operating systems are one argument, but those who refer to Apple’s App Store and iOS restrictions as oppressive or a form of imprisonment demonstrate a profoundly poor understanding of either. No one is forced to buy an iOS device, and no iOS device controls every channel of information through which one both receives knowledge or expresses oneself. My guess is that citizens of countries in which one can be put to death for simply owning an iPhone would beg to differ with the EFF about the degree to which Apple “imprisons” users.
EFF… get some perspective.