It’s great that Apple is supporting these issues. But it’s equally important to reflect on Apple’s less rights-promoting activities. The company operates around the world and chooses to pursue profits to the detriment of the privacy of its China-based users. It clearly has challenges — along with all other smartphone companies — in acquiring natural mineral resources that are conflict-free; the purchase of conflict minerals raises fundamental human rights issues. And the company’s ongoing efforts to minimize its taxation obligations have direct impacts on the abilities of governments to provide essential services to those who are often the worst off in society.
Each of the above examples are easily, and quickly, reduced to assertions that Apple is a public company in a capitalist society. It has obligations to shareholders and, thus, can only do so much to advance basic rights while simultaneously pursuing profits. Apple is, on some accounts, actively attempting to enhance certain rights and promote certain causes and mitigate certain harms while simultaneously acting in the interests of its shareholders.
Those are all entirely fair, and reasonable, arguments. I understand them all. But I think that we’d likely all be well advised to consider Apple’s broader activities before declaring that Apple has ‘our’ backs, on the basis that ‘our’ backs are often privileged, wealthy, and able to externalize a range of harms associated with Apple’s international activities.
John Gruber is ripping into the Wall Street Journal for their reporting on Apple Pay. Specifically, he complains that the Journal didn’t explain how to remove an alert that is meant to encourage people to set up Apple Pay, agrees that Apple has done a bad job explaining how Apple Pay is more secure than using an actual credit card, and mocks an analyst’s comparison to Apple Pay to Microsoft’s antitrust cases in the 1990s and early 2000s.
I agree with a lot of what John wrote but, at the same time, think that it’s all too easy to dismiss complaints about Apple Pay. I work amongst an incredibly technical group of colleagues. Many of us have iPhones. But I’m the only person who uses Apple Pay with any regularity…and I’ve run into issues time after time. Let me list some of the problems I’ve experienced:
I tried to return an item I bought using Apple Pay (linked to my credit card). But when I returned it the credit card number displayed on the receipt was different from that on my credit card…so the retailer refused to take the return.1 It was only after I undertook some independent research that I figured out how to pull up the temporarily assigned number in Apple Pay and, then, additional time to educate the frontline staff, the manager, and then wait for the manager to call central office to confirm they could process the return. Time to return a product to a store that was down the street from me? About 3-4 hours split over 2 days. I wouldn’t have the same issue if I’d just bought the item with my physical credit card.2
Apple Pay doesn’t work as reliably with tap-enabled Point of Sale machines. I’d say that I have about an 85-90% ’hit’ rate with Apple Pay versus using the tap feature of my credit card. That makes Apple Pay less convenient than a tap-enabled credit card or debit card.
Various Point of Sale machines have disabled tap and force me to use one of my chip/PIN cards. This is typically done in restaurants or retail locations where either they can’t afford to fix their Point of Sale machine or refuse to pay to enable the feature (or simply haven’t upgraded their machines to accept tap payments). So I have to carry my regular credit card and debit card with me, wherever I go, on the basis that I can’t trust that I can use Apple Pay at any given location.
Sometimes Apple Pay just doesn’t work. I have no idea what the problem is but there are times where I just have to remove the cards and re-add them to Apple Pay. I don’t know why this takes place but it happens at least once a year. And I find out about it when I’m trying to pay for something. I don’t have this problem with my credit card.3
Do I like Apple Pay? I do, actually, and I use it a lot. But I’m willing to deal with the above teething issues as an early adopter. Security is fine and good, but for the majority of people usability is the most important component of using a product. And Apple Pay remains, in my eyes, only mostly-usable. It needs to be a lot more reliable before it is adopted by the mainstream.
I know: this is a security feature (one I love!) but it’s a feature that’s been introduced without an equally clear explanation of how to find the temporarily used number. This education needs to happen at both the end-user and retailer level. ↩
And I have no clue what you’d do if you lost your phone or it was stolen between the time of purchasing an item with Apple Pay and wanting to return it. ↩
To be fair, I have to replace my debit card (rarely used either as the card or in Apple Pay) approximately every six months because it just stops working. But this hasn’t ever happened with my credit card, which is my primary way of paying for everything. ↩
The only thing I want in today’s iOS release is for Apple Notes to not hang and freeze constantly. It was only with iOS 11.2 that I started running into issues so I’m hopeful they’ll have fixed whatever went wrong last update.
I really wish that I could justify buying the new 9.7” iPad that supports the Apple Pencil. I’m entirely fine with needing a bluetooth keyboard — I’ve found Logitech’s Keys-To-Go Ultra-Portable Bluetooth Keyboard is pretty great — but really wish that I could benefit from the pencil input. But there’s no way that buying an iPad one year later makes any real sense. Maybe in a few years!
Cellebrite is not revealing the nature of the Advanced Unlocking Services’ approach. However, it is likely software based, according to Dan Guido, CEO of the security firm Trail of Bits. Guido told Ars that he had heard Cellebrite’s attack method may be blocked by an upcoming iOS update, 11.3.
“That leads me to believe [Cellebrite] have a power/timing attack that lets them bypass arbitrary delays and avoid device lockouts,” Guido wrote in a message to Ars. “That method would rely on specific characteristics of the software, which explains how Apple could patch what appears to be a hardware issue.”
Regardless of the approach, Cellebrite’s method almost certainly is dependent on a brute-force attack to discover the PIN. And the easiest way to protect against that is to use a longer, alphanumeric password—something Apple has been attempting to encourage with TouchID and FaceID, since the biometric security methods reduce the number of times an iPhone owner has to enter a password.
This once again confirms the importance of establishing strong, long, passwords for iOS devices. Sure they’re less convenient but they provide measurably better security.