On Friday, Apple CEO Tim Cook is attending a White House cybersecurity summit, where he’s expected to discuss whether Apple’s encryption policies are aiding criminals.
But he may be the only major tech CEO to attend. According to a report from Bloomberg, Mark Zuckerberg, Marissa Mayer, and Larry Page and Eric Schmidt have all snubbed the summit, opting to send security execs in their place.
In recent months, tech companies have become increasingly at odds with US authorities over their increased use of strong encryption technology. For example, the iPhone now by defaults encrypts user data in such a way that it cannot be encrypted by Apple or law enforcement, even if they have a warrant. This is good news for consumers concerned about cybercrime, or trying to protect their privacy in light of the NSA spying revelations.
But it’s bad if you’re a security agency trying to catch terrorists or other dangerous criminals. There is just no way for law enforcement to read something if it’s properly encrypted — which lets the bad guys as well as the good guys communicate in secret. One senior American police officer said that the iPhone will become the “phone of choice for the paedophile.”
The issue isn’t on the official agenda, Bloomberg reports, but it’s likely that Cook will at least discuss it informally. The summit will also have panels on digital payments and protection for consumers.
It’s become a bone of contention between the White House and tech companies, and the snub to Obama comes in light of it. As Bloomberg notes, historically “the technology industry has been a vital source of political support, campaign contributions and assistance … for Obama.” But that cosy relationship isn’t so strong any more. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer, Google CEO Eric Page and executive chairman Eric Schmidt were all invited to attend the summit at Stanford University, but declined. Instead, they’re sending top security executives from their companies.
Like the iPhone, new versions of Google’s Android mobile OS comes with strong encryption. And Facebook owns popular messaging app WhatsApp, which also uses end-to-end encryption the company cannot crack. Founder Jan Koum was affected by Soviet surveillance growing up, and it’s an issue he feels strongly about.