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Tim Cook bio looks at Apple vs. FBI, Cook vs. Steve Jobs

Tim Cook bio looks at Apple vs. FBI, Cook vs. Steve Jobs

April 13th, 2019 by The Mercury News in Features

The main thread in a new biography of Tim Cook is he is a man of principle.

Nowhere was that more apparent than during Apple's battle with the FBI in 2016, suggests author Leander Kahney in "Tim Cook: The Genius Who Took Apple to the Next Level," an unauthorized biography of the Apple CEO that features interviews with company insiders.

In the book, Bruce Sewell, Apple's general counsel at the time, talks about how the Apple team handled the FBI's demand that the company make special software to allow it to unlock the iPhone of a suspect in the attack in San Bernardino that killed 14 people in December 2015.

It was "a bet-the-company kind of decision," Sewell told Kahney, who is editor of Cult of Mac, a news site about everything Apple, and author of previous books about the late Steve Jobs and Apple executive Jony Ive.

Sewell said a magistrate judge's order to unlock the iPhone prompted Cook and his team to stay up all night to craft a response, and that Cook was concerned about all the angles—from Apple's legal position to how the public would perceive it.

The next day, Cook published an open letter to Apple customers explaining the company's position: that "the U.S. government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create. They have asked us to build a backdoor to the iPhone."

What the public did not know was that the San Bernardino case wasn't the beginning of the battle, according to Sewell. He said he, Cook and others had been meeting regularly with the heads of the FBI, the Justice Department and the U.S. attorney general for a couple of years over the government's interest in "getting access to phones on a mass basis." Cook had always stuck to his stance that providing a backdoor into the iPhone would open up a way for anyone, including those with bad intentions, to possibly exploit user information. Sewell said the FBI seized on the San Bernardino attack as a chance to force Apple's hand.

The fight ended when the FBI found another way to access the iPhone and the agency could no longer keep up pressure on Apple. But Sewell said that although Apple appeared to come out on top in terms of public support for taking a stand, Cook was disappointed that the fight didn't make it to court—and that the issue is sure to come up again.

The battle was consistent with Apple's policies on privacy, especially nowadays as Cook takes swipes at other tech giants over their collection of user data.

"Apple is one of the few companies to take a very consumer-friendly stance" on privacy and security, Kahney said in an interview. "This was true during the Jobs era, but it is much more true under Cook."

Kahney notes in the book that the Apple chief executive places greater importance on corporate citizenship than his predecessor, Apple co-founder Jobs.

The company showed it was serious about being environmentally friendly when Cook hired Lisa Jackson, formerly head of the Environmental Protection Agency under President Barack Obama, as vice president of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives. She told Kahney that Cook's concern for the environment "is part of who he is."

Apple also now does more charitable giving and has taken political stands, including speaking out against policies that discriminate against gay people. Cook came out as gay in 2014, writing in an essay for Bloomberg he felt it was important to do so to help others come to terms with their own sexuality, or inspire others to stand up for equality.

On equality, Apple has done a little better than other tech companies in terms of diversity in its workforce, which is still largely white and male. But its record in that area is mixed, Kahney notes.

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