Hiding the truth is the Silicon Valley way

Why don't we know why Amazon's cloud crashed? Why did it take Apple so long to explain its use of location data? Because tech vendors know stonewalling has no penalty

It's an old adage in politics and public relations: It's not the crime that will kill you, but the coverup. Just ask Barry Bonds, whose shot at the Hall of Fame has foundered on the rocks of perjury, or Richard Nixon. You'd think that would be true in the technology industry as well. But Apple and Amazon.com demonstrated this week that they don't believe it is. Both companies stonewalled like crazy, elevating understandable mistakes and problems to the level of scandal by refusing to explain what happened and why in a timely fashion.

Maybe the reason they behaved that way is that all too often Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, and other tech companies have gotten away with it. Indeed, refusing to acknowledge problems has become the reaction of first resort for Apple. This month, it was the issue of location data stored on an iPhone; last year the company pretended for weeks that there was no problem with the radio antenna on the iPhone 4. A year earlier, it said nothing about a bug that let iPhones lie about their security status and get access to networks they shouldn't have, then quietly fixed the bug and "broke" a lot of iPhones in the process, all with no explanation.

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Wait a minute, you say: Apple got caught on the location issue, received a black eye, and came clean on Wednesday. That's true, but it took a weeklong barrage of terrible, worldwide publicity and the threat of an investigation by the U.S. Senate to make that happen. Apple will tweak some security settings, but don't think that when some other issue surfaces Apple won't handle it any differently.

Have you looked at Apple's stock price lately or noticed how strong sales of the iPhone remain, despite an obvious and very annoying design flaw? Steve Jobs and company are far from stupid. They've noticed that they're rewarded -- or at least not penalized -- for bad behavior, so they have no reason to change.

Plenty of other tech companies behave that way, and now it looks like Amazon.com is on the same course.

Apple's location contretemps was not a big deal, but Apple let it become one
I wasn't all atwitter (pun intended) about Apple's penchant for storing a database of location data on the user's own computer. Ultimately, it didn't involve a dangerous invasion of privacy, and Apple had disclosed elements of the issue some time ago.

But I am appalled that the company took a week to give users a serious explanation of what it's doing with that data and why it stores the information for as long as a year. Even if Apple didn't know about the bugs it now claims are the cause of the yearlong location retention and its being backed up via iTunes, the company could have at least reiterated when the concerns surfaced that it doesn't track user data, that its terms of use note that anonymized location data is sent to Apple for network mapping, and that it would investigate the concerns over the locally stored data. Apple did none of that. (Apple CEO Steve Jobs did tell the New York Times late yesterday that Apple doesn't go public until it has researched the facts, in an interview unusual for its nearly apologetic tone.)

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