• They Still Believe Rumors Based on Rumors

    November 11th, 2014

    Before the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus arrived, there were photos of components and finished cases that appeared quite close to the mark. So despite Apple’s efforts to clamp down on security leaks, the word still got out. As a practical matter, with hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people assembling Apple gear, it is virtually impossible to shut it all down. The stories will get out from time to time, and Apple has to cope with it.

    Sure, secrets are kept, but very often they manage to avoid the Asian supply chain. The Mac Pro, for example, is assembled in the U.S.A., and production is fairly limited, hence there were fewer people to suffer from bouts of loose lips before the original launch. Since the Apple Watch hasn’t yet gone into mass production, again Apple has fuller control over the leaks. Indeed, very little of the final configuration was known in advance of the September media event where the curtain was lifted, though there was plenty of guesswork, some of which might have hinted at the reality by sheer logic or luck.

    But Apple rumors are big business, and even the mainstream media will post them from time to time. Sometimes they’ll even quote known rumor sites, which gives a story all that much extra credibility. So we have frequent situations where a rumor becomes more credible because someone has quoted one posted by someone else.

    We have a situation, then, where you might read a story that, “according to a rumor published in rumorsitedujour.com, Apple is going to release a 24-inch iPod Super Pro at the end of 2016 to cater to graphic artists and sign painters.”

    Now before I go on, I’m sure you realize there is no such site, or at least not yet, and that there is no such rumor, at least not yet. Don’t take it seriously, but when such things go through several generations of transmission and retransmission, along with some embellishment, they can take on a life of their own.

    The larger problem with coverage of Apple Inc., however, is the unfortunate fact that little glitches can become major, and modest glitches can become unmitigated disasters. We know, for example, that the iOS 8.0.1 update went awfully wrong if you owned any variation of an iPhone 6. You lost cellular connections and Touch ID. That was bad, and Apple knew it quickly enough to withdraw the update in a little over an hour. But not before 40,000 people were impacted. Yes, there was a not-too-painful fix of restoring the device with the original iOS 8. Apple released a working 8.0.2 update the very next day.

    This is also not the first time someone’s software update went wrong, and it doesn’t matter why. Apple says it was the “wrapper” without actually explaining what that meant to most people. Regardless, it doesn’t take much in the way of online searches to find failed updates everywhere, not just with Apple. Stuff will happen, but the real question is how well a company addresses and fixes a glitch. Clearly Apple acted quickly once the damage was known. Would Microsoft issue a fixed update in 24 hours? Or 24 days?

    On Monday afternoon, I heard a brief AP news story during their hourly radio newscast about alleged infected apps that could impact Apple devices. It sounded all new, but offered no details. Unfortunately, it may be nothing more than a repeat of last week’s report about the WireLurker trojan that impacted both Macs and iOS gear. If so, the story failed to mention that the infection was spread by pirated apps downloaded from an illegal software site in China. What’s more, Apple has taken steps to block the affected apps so they can’t be launched on a Mac and do their nasty stuff.

    So it appears that the AP report was not only out of date, but misleading. Worse, it’s the sort of story that might be repeated uncritically on a radio or TV station. A few laughing talking heads embellishing the story with snide comments, and new rumors would be spread. But I don’t expect mainstream media outlets to correctly parse tech stories unless they have people onboard who understand what’s actually going on. And maybe not even then if a story putting Apple in a bad light would boost ratings.

    To be fair, it may well be that AP was referring to something called a “Masque Attack,” involving bogus iOS apps that may be distributed using Apple’s enterprise provisioning system. It’s a vulnerability first discovered last summer but not reported until this week by a security company. Still, it doesn’t mean that anyone has ever been infected by it. If it’s as serious as it seems, I would expect Apple to close the security hole in a future iOS update. But remember that potential security problems don’t count for much unless they are actually exploited somehow.

    But you can see how reports of this sort fuel speculation about the alleged lack of security on the OS X or iOS platforms, ignoring the very real problems on Android that will rarely, if ever, be fixed. Remember that most people with Android gear never, ever receive critical software updates, or any software updates. Sure, Google might fix problems with Google Play that don’t require pushing an update to a smartphone or tablet. But that’s not even half a loaf.

    Since things that happen at Google ought to be big news, you wonder why these radio and TV talking heads aren’t covering Android security lapses. Maybe someone from Apple should quietly make a few phone calls. But I wonder at times whether one of those other companies are making calls asking their favored reporters to look at an alleged Apple problem, or at least a rumor that casts unfavorable light on the company.

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