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FBI pressure leaves iCloud, iPhone users vulnerable to unencrypted back door

Apple touts iPhone privacy as a key selling point on its website. (Source: Apple)
Apple touts iPhone privacy as a key selling point on its website. (Source: Apple)
Apple has found itself in another privacy related controversy, this time over a decision apparently made two years ago, but only coming to light now. According to Reuters, Apple abandoned plans to fully encrypt iPhone (and iPad) back ups in iCloud following pressure from the FBI. The move raises serious privacy concerns for a company that touts itself as a user privacy leader.
Sanjiv Sathiah,

Apple is once again mired in another privacy related scandal. According to Reuters, Apple caved in to the FBI on its plans to encrypt iCloud back-ups of its users iPhone (and iPad) data. The story has come to light following recent pressure from US President Donald Trump calling on Apple to unlock the iPhones of “killers, drug dealers and other violent criminal elements.”

Reuters claims that it has received information from six different sources that Apple had plans two years ago to encrypt iPhone data stored in iCloud that would have removed the ‘key’ to user data. This would have helped to deliver the levels of strict privacy that Apple advertises as a major point of differentiation from its competitors. Instead, those plans were scuppered leaving Apple in a position to support law enforcement by handing over unencrypted back ups, which it has admitted to doing.

According to Reuters, two former FBI officials revealed that such access to user iPhone data has provided it with ‘vital evidence’ used in ‘thousands’ of cases that it has won in court. There several aspects of Apple’s iPhone data that are encrypted, but many users would also assume that their iCloud back up is also encrypted. The only way to ensure that an iCloud back up is fully encrypted is to store back iPhone and iPad back ups locally to a Mac or PC.

Apple's statement on privacy. (Source: Apple)
Apple's statement on privacy. (Source: Apple)
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Sanjiv Sathiah, 2020-01-22 (Update: 2020-01-22)
Sanjiv Sathiah
I have been tech-obsessed from the time my father introduced me to my first computer, an Apple ][. Since then, I have grown to enjoy exploring and experimenting with any computing platform that I can get my hands on – I am the definitive early adopter! I have always been interested in how we can use technology to shape and improve our lives, most recently using it to record, mix and master my debut record, Acuity – Nature | Nurture out now on Spotify.