Hacked Off: Does the iPhone 6 Foreshadow a Post-Snowden Consumer Electronics Universe?

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One of the more interesting stories that we at Mediolana have been poring over in recent days has been the revelation that the iPhone 6 – a device which has so far made headlines mostly for its purportedly malleable case – is causing concern at the highest level of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (‘FBI’). This is because the ninth iteration of Apple’s iconic mobile handset is also its most secure: the phone’s encryption of emails, photographs and contacts is so comprehensive that Apple will not be able to hand over anything particularly substantive to a law enforcement or intelligence agency in the event of an investigation.

Whether Apple’s claims about the impracticability of trying to crack the iPhone 6’s encryption prove to be correct or not, James B. Comey – a distinguished alumnus of the University of Chicago’s law school and the director of the FBI – is clearly concerned enough to be making pronouncements about the dangers of companies manufacturing and marketing electronic devices that ‘allow people to hold themselves above the law’. Comey may have a point, but after some consideration, we believe that there are at least three even more salient issues that have arisen from this perhaps unexpected iPhone 6 USP:

  1. The Value of Privacy. The iPhone 6 signals that there is an economic value to privacy: consumers will be willing to pay more (or at least allocate their disposable income in a different way) on the basis of whether their data will remain just that. Moreover, in large markets whose jurisdictions are wary of US espionage – think Angela Merkel – the ability of American companies to do business in those countries may depend on their meeting certain encryption standards.
  2. Competing on Security. Google has already announced that the forthcoming version of its own mobile operating system, Android, will have encryption as the default setting. With companies seeking to outdo each other on the impenetrability of their offerings, the conflict between the requirements of consumers and the level of access desired by national or international agencies is likely to intensify in the future.
  3. Trust. With ever-more private and sensitive data being stored on mobile devices, perceived breaches of trust could have significant economic consequences – as well as impacting brand equity. In the notoriously volatile smart devices market, today’s ubiquitous phone is tomorrow’s museum piece – and security may be a key determinant of which manufacturer is next to end up in the bankruptcy courts.

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Should Business Save the World?

Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 19.03.25Reading Monday’s International New York Times – almost never on the actual day of publication – is one of our guiltier pleasures here at Mediolana, and this week promised to be much like any other: the usual mix of comic strips, Corner Office and trying to wipe pasta sauce off the inside back pages without the former absorbing too much ink. But an advertisement in the education section brought a swift end to a relaxing lunch’s browsing: the 2015 Oslo Business for Peace Awards (‘OBPA’) will soon be upon us, and the nominations are gathering pace.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with the Oslo Business for Peace Awards – far from it. Its stated goal is ‘to inspire business leaders to be businessworthy; to have them apply their business energy with the purpose of creating economic value that also creates value for society.’ International business leaders identified by the International Chamber of Commerce (‘ICC’), the United Nations Development Program (‘UNDP’) and the UN Global Compact (‘UNGC’) in collaboration with the Business for Peace Foundation (‘BPF’) will be honoured accordingly on the first day of May 2015 in the lush capital of Norway.

So far, so wonderful. But after some reflection – and despite being a company which tries to integrate CSR into our core practices in some pretty deep ways – we at Mediolana admit to being slightly morose not at the prospect of the 2015 OBPA (which promises to be some occasion) but at the perspective, quite possibly a correct one, that commerce is the best vehicle for achieving global peace.

The task of achieving peace is surely the remit of politicians and diplomats. They are the ones with tools that even the largest global corporations can only dream of: consulates, armies and the powers of taxation. But as general distrust of and disillusionment with governments around the world – augmented by the (dis)information super-cycle of the Internet – is growing at record speed, global society as a whole is being forced to look in unlikely and illogical places for solutions to intractable problems.

Business for Peace – which only held its first awards ceremony in 2009 – is a fantastic concept which deserves worldwide recognition; the realm of commerce can and should do more to promote the goal of geopolitical tranquillity. But whether business should have to step into such a gaping breach is another question entirely.

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