A strong majority of US adults say Apple should comply with a federal judge’s order that the company enable the FBI to access the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino terrorists. The situation puts the world’s number-one brand in an uncomfortable spotlight, having to navigate conflicting law enforcement and customer demands about fighting terrorism and protecting privacy.
“The case marks one of the highest-profile clashes in the debate over encryption,” CNBC notes. “Law enforcement authorities say that encryption used by the likes of Apple makes it harder for them to solve cases and stop terrorist attacks. Technology firms have kicked back, saying that encryption is key to protecting user data from hackers, a point [Apple CEO Tim] Cook reinforces” in his February 16 letter to customers.
A new Lightpseed GMI survey of 500 US adults age 18 and older, conducted February 17-18, shows 74% of those surveyed saying Apple should unlock the terrorist's iPhone while 26% say Apple should not unlock the phone. (The question reads, "Currently, Apple is contesting an FBI request and a judge’s order to unlock the iPhone of San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook. Do you think Apple should unlock the iPhone?")
However if Apple does not unlock the phone, only 41%, a strong plurality but far from the 74% who think Apple should comply, say it will hurt their view of the brand while 59% say it will not. (The question reads, "If Apple does not comply with the FBI in this case, will it negatively impact your perception of the brand?")
- $247 billion Apple's 2015 estimated brand value
If Apple does in fact unlock the phone, 17% say it will hurt their view of the brand while 83% say it won't. (The question reads, "If Apple does comply with the FBI in this case, will it negatively impact your perception of the brand?")
Apple has ranked as the world’s most valuable global brand in two of the last three years, 2015 and 2013, according to Millward Brown’s BrandZ rankings. In 2014, it temporarily lost the top spot to Google. Its 2015 brand value was estimated at $247 billion, a 67% increase from 2014.
“I think the lesson from things like environmental concerns is that for the majority of people, personal interest always wins out over broader threats,” says Nigel Hollis, chief global analyst at Millward Brown. “Apple relies on millions of individuals trusting that what is on their smartphone – one of the most personal items they possess – remains private. As a result, I would suggest Apple has little choice but to reject installation of a back-door system that facilitates government access to private data.”
In late 2014, after Apple adopted new encryption technologies to protect iPhone users from law enforcement inquiries (and Google followed suit), a Benenson Strategy Group survey showed 56% agreeing that law enforcement has access to more personal data than ever before, and people have a right to privacy that shouldn’t be defeated by a back door. The onetime survey has not been updated since the San Bernardino attack.
Apple ended 2015 as the leading smartphone brand in the US, according to Kantar Worldpanel's quarterly studies of smartphone market share. Within the US, Apple spent $732 million on advertising in 2015, according to Kantar Media, a decrease from the $804 million it spent in 2014.
"This is a critical period for the Apple brand," says Jonathan Hall, president of consulting at Added Value North America. "It has already encountered headwinds navigating the path from challenger brand to mainstream – the very status that it targeted in its famous ‘1984’ TV execution years ago. With ‘Decryptiongate’, Apple could all too easily be perceived as an enemy of the people, a willing collaborator with terrorist organizations, even as it seeks to uphold people’s basic rights to privacy. It’s a highly trying time for the brand and its role in global culture."
It's also an opportunity for Apple to clearly enunciate its values. The 2015 Global MONITOR survey for Kantar's The Futures Company found 78% of US adults agreeing that they "appreciate it when companies make it clear what they stand for and stay true to their values."
Claire Regenstreif contributed to this article.