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Author Tim Wu of the book “The Master Switch”, in a recent interview with the New York Times (s NYT), gives some sobering, yet controversial thoughts about Apple’s (s aapl) role in information control that prove much more interesting than Apple’s announcement today. Wu finds Apple just a little terrifying.
Paved With Good Intentions
Wu, a professor of copyright law at Columbia University, writes about business “in the way that writers have traditionally written about war,” in his own words. His work focuses on the ways that power permeates commerce, sustaining some firms while destroying others.
Wu takes aim at companies like ABC (s dis), NBC (s ge), AT&T (s t) and Google (s goog), that started as firms focused on serving the public, but turned to “evil” when they began to suppress technologies that could possibly interfere with their market dominance.
When asked which company is the most threatening, Wu has a ready answer: “Right now, I’d have to say Apple… Steve Jobs has the charisma, vision, and instincts of every great information emperor. The man who helped create the personal computer 40 years ago is probably the leading candidate to help exterminate it. His vision has an undeniable appeal, but he wants too much control.”
Data, Packaged and Sold
The iTunes Store, founded in April 2003, was perhaps Apple’s first major foray into changing the way we receive data. Over time, it became the foremost means for acquiring digital music legally, and changed the face of the industry forever. The Beatles coming onboard is one of the final dominoes to fall in Apple’s effort to provide access to the entirety of popular music.
Apple also spearheaded the rise of the app. Downloading apps is now commonplace, thanks largely to iOS. More and more, we don’t go to our favorite website to view that snippet of news or buy that hot product, we instead use apps designed for the purpose that wall off access to the rest of the web, and often charge us for the privilege of doing so.
While there are many other app stores in existence with other companies, with the success of the iOS App Store and the coming Mac App Store, Apple is positioned to remain a dominating force in the arena of intermediation between information and audiences. While this serves as a great opportunity for many technology creators, how long will Apple retain its position of trust in its current curatorial role?
Rotten to the Core?
When asked about the possibility of Jobs leaving Apple before long, which could happen due to health and increasing age, Wu states, “I think it may not matter…the mark of Steve Jobs is firmly placed on that firm, that it will continue long after he passes from leadership.” His core values may indeed remain, though I doubt his personality-based idiosyncrasies will carry on.
Whether or not we agree with Wu’s opinions, his assertion that Apple isn’t our little darling from Cupertino anymore is a reality that must be grappled with.
What do you think? Does Apple have too much control over how information is distributed? If so, what’s the best way to go about limiting its power?
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