Google, WhatsApp, Microsoft back Apple’s defiance on encryption order

Google, WhatsApp, and Microsoft have leapt into the turbulent wake Apple left when CEO Tim Cook said the company was refusing White House demands to unlock an encrypted iPhone used by one of the terrorists responsible for the attack in San Bernardino, California.

On Wednesday, Cook posted an open letter to customers saying that Apple’s been cooperating with the FBI, supplying the bureau with the information it can technically turn over.

But the government’s demanding information that the company simply doesn’t have, he said.

Giving the government the type of information it’s demanding would entail building “something we consider too dangerous to create,” Cook wrote:

They have asked us to build a backdoor to the iPhone.

Specifically, the FBI wants us to make a new version of the iPhone operating system, circumventing several important security features, and install it on an iPhone recovered during the investigation. In the wrong hands, this software – which does not exist today – would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession.

Countless fists throughout the internet pumped the air.

On Wednesday, Google CEO Sundar Pichai posted five tweets in support of Cook’s message.

Cook isn’t saying anything he hasn’t already said – multiple times.

Apple has refused to obey court orders at least twice already, when it said it couldn’t comply because it doesn’t have the ability to break its own encryption.

Apple also got a vote of support from another internet messaging giant with its own history of refusing to hand over user data: WhatsApp.

WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum wrote in a Facebook post that he “couldn’t agree more” with Cook’s letter.

His post, which included a link to the letter:

I have always admired Tim Cook for his stance on privacy and Apple’s efforts to protect user data and couldn’t agree more with everything said in their Customer Letter today. We must not allow this dangerous precedent to be set. Today our freedom and our liberty is at stake.

In December, Brazil blocked WhatsApp for 12 hours when the Facebook-owned messaging company refused to hand over user data in a case involving a drug trafficker linked to one of Sao Paulo’s most dangerous criminal gangs.

He’d allegedly used WhatsApp while committing crimes.

In 2014, WhatsApp garnered kudos for providing end-to-end encryption for messages.

But as pointed out by The Verge, WhatsApp’s centralized implementation means that it can switch off encryption at any time.

That means that users would potentially be none the wiser if intelligence agencies serve the company with National Security Letters, cloaked as they are with gag orders.

Microsoft was another big tech company to come out in support of Apple, at least sort of.

Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer, tweeted a link to a statement from Reform Government Surveillance, which is a coalition of tech companies, including Microsoft, which monitors government surveillance issues.

That statement:

Reform Government Surveillance companies believe it is extremely important to deter terrorists and criminals and to help law enforcement by processing legal orders for information in order to keep us all safe.

But technology companies should not be required to build in backdoors to the technologies that keep their users’ information secure. RGS companies remain committed to providing law enforcement with the help it needs while protecting the security of their customers and their customers’ information.

RGS includes companies such as AOL, Dropbox, Evernote, Facebook, Google, Apple, LinkedIn, Twitter and Yahoo.


Our ethos and development practices prohibit “backdoors” or any other means of compromising the strength of our products for any purpose, and we vigorously oppose any law that would compel Sophos (or any other technology supplier) to weaken the security of our products.

Full statement ►

Image of iPhone in chains courtesy of