Google CEO offers some support for Apple in encryption battle

Technically Incorrect: Sundar Pichai says that what a court is expecting from Apple "could be a troubling precedent."

Chris Matyszczyk
3 min read

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.

Sundar Pichai. Pitching in with comment on Apple's battle.


Edward Snowden wanted Google to say something.

After Apple CEO Tim Cook had insisted his company intends to fight a court order asking it to hack the iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino terrorists, the self-exiled former government employee offered a sobering tweet.

"This is the most important tech case in a decade. Silence means @google picked a side, but it's not the public's," he wrote.

That silence from Google has now been broken.

In a series of tweets, the company's CEO, Sundar Pichai, offered what some saw as support for Cook's position.

"Important post by @tim_cook. Forcing companies to enable hacking could compromise users' privacy," he wrote. "We know that law enforcement and intelligence agencies face significant challenges in protecting the public against crime and terrorism. We build secure products to keep your information safe and we give law enforcement access to data based on valid legal orders."

This echoed Cook's contention to NPR that "if they [the authorities] ask in a way that is correct, and has been through the courts as is required, then to the degree that we have information, we give that information."

Pichai seemed to be at least somewhat supportive of Cook. "But that's wholly different than requiring companies to enable hacking of customer devices & data," he tweeted. "Could be a troubling precedent."

So does Google stand with Apple? Well, perhaps.

Pichai's final thought was "Looking forward to a thoughtful and open discussion on this important issue."

This falls slightly short of "I stand with Tim Cook against the government."

Cook has been critical of Google and other competitors of not taking security as seriously -- in his view -- as Apple does.

Cook has described privacy as an issue of morality. His clear implication has been that the likes of Google and Facebook have been far more laissez-faire on that issue than has Apple.

It might be odd, therefore, if Google suddenly stood foursquare with Apple in its fight against the FBI and the courts.

At heart, technology has moved at a far faster pace than has the law. In its case against Apple, the FBI is trying to use a law from 1789 -- the All Writs Act -- to demand that Apple contravene its own security features in order to give access to a terrorist's phone.

Some might say that this is not the best case for Apple to be pursuing. The impression left is that it's putting a terrorist's privacy ahead of national security.

However, even Pichai's somewhat guarded words will serve to bolster the notion that Cook may not be entirely alone in his insistence that user privacy must be protected at all costs.

The next question is whether Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and other tech leaders show support for Apple. Or whether they'll let Cook and his lawyers carry out the fight and see not only whether there's any conclusion, but how long it might take to actually reach one.