With Silicon Valley Support, Apple No Longer Risks Its Brand Alone

Facebook, Google, Microsoft Line Up for Apple in Conflict With FBI

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Apple CEO Tim Cook
Apple CEO Tim Cook Credit: Michael Short/Bloomberg

In Apple's conflict with the U.S. over a locked iPhone, Apple will not shoulder the entire brand risk itself: Tech powers including Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter are all lining up to support Apple in court.

The government has said Apple's refusal to help unlocking the phone, used by a suspected terrorist, "appears to be based on its concern for its business model and its public brand marketing strategy." But the company is also clearly at risk in the court of public opinion, where terrorism fears rival or surpass privacy concerns for many.

Apple on Thursday filed a motion to vacate an order that would force it to cooperate with the government's effort to access a phone used by one of the San Bernardino, Calif., shooters in December.

But speaking during Congressional testimony on Thursday, Microsoft President Brad Smith said that it would file a friend of the court brief in Apple's support. Google, Facebook and Twitter will also take Apple's side, according to reports by The Wall Street Journal and Reuters. And Amazon told BuzzFeed that it was working on amicus brief options.

The deadline to file a friend of the court brief is March 3, so it's possible that more tech companies still will join in support.

Representatives of Google, Facebook and Twitter did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Thursday.

It hasn't been entirely clear how Silicon Valley will line up in the battle, one of the biggest and most complex national-security stories since Edward Snowden revealed the extent of the U.S. government's surveillance activities.

At first other companies were relatively quiet on the subject. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google CEO Sundar Pichai then both stated their support for Apple. Mr. Zuckerberg reiterated that support in a keynote at Mobile World Congress earlier this week.

But Microsoft founder Bill Gates seemed to say earlier this week that the government's request was reasonable. "They are not asking for some general thing, they are asking for a particular case," Mr. Gates told The Financial Times. "It is no different than [the question of] should anybody ever have been able to tell the phone company to get information, should anybody be able to get at bank records. Let's say the bank had tied a ribbon round the disk drive and said, 'Don't make me cut this ribbon because you'll make me cut it many times'."

Mr. Gates later told Bloomberg that he doesn't support the government getting "everything" and was only arguing that privacy and security concerns must both be weighed.

The public for now is divided on whether Apple is doing the right thing. Around half of Americans think Apple should help the Government, according to a survey by Pew Research Center. About 38% said Apple shouldn't do so.

But getting more official support from other tech companies could help Apple's cause. On the other hand, it could also drive the wedge deeper between Silicon Valley and middle America, particularly for citizens who believe the U.S. should be doing more to combat terrorism.

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