EFF wants Apple to allow iCloud backup encryption, but...

The EFF is doing something called hashtag fix it already, which they're calling. Picking a bunch of issues they feel a bunch of companies need to fix to get their security and privacy acts together. They call it, #FixItAlready:

A new way to show companies we're serious about the big security and privacy issues they need to fix. We are demanding fixes for different issues from nine tech companies and platforms, targeting social media companies, operating systems, and enterprise platforms on issues ranging from encryption design to retention policies.

And you, I really… I shouldn't…. It's all shades of cute. Now, don't get me wrong, almost any move forward when it comes to privacy and security is a good move. Here's the list:

  • Android should let users deny and revoke apps' Internet permissions.
  • Apple should let users encrypt their iCloud backups.
  • Facebook should leave your phone number where you put it.
  • Slack should give free workspace administrators control over data retention.
  • Twitter should end-to-end encrypt direct messages.
  • Venmo should let users hide their friends lists.
  • Verizon should stop pre-installing spyware on its users' phones.
  • WhatsApp should get your consent before you're added to a group.
  • Windows 10 should let users keep their disk encryption keys to themselves.

On one hand, it looks almost completely based rando. Like, just pick something, anything, and throw a spotlight on it, and try and get some hype going, regardless of how it fits into a logical progression or any larger strategy or context. On the other, almost any move forward.

When it comes to iCloud and Apple, as I've said before, I agree completely. People should absolutely have the ability to toggle a switch in settings that encrypts everything locally before it hits Apple's servers, just like iMessage and all the other real-time transmissions.

But… as I've also said before, it's a much subtler and more nuanced conversation and it's dangerous and, frankly, irresponsible to just tell people to encrypt everything. Which is why experts don't.

Here's why:

So, again again, yes please. Give people who know the risks and want the protection, who would rather lose access to their own data than have anyone else gain access to it, the ability to flip that switch. But leave it off by default and educate the hell out of anyone and everyone by the time they find it and even think about switching it.

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Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • I just create a “sensitive” encrypted disk image file and store anything I want to keep secure on it. Then just mount it when access to data is needed. It is saved to iCloud just as any other file, but unfortunately it is only accessible from a macOS system.
  • "Encryption is good. It's great. But encrypting backups isn't the best thing to do for everyone. Not even for most people. So..." Right, so there shouldn't be a toggle because?... If it says "you need to keep this key, or your backup will be unreadable" that's the user's fault. Also, Android does have the ability to block internet access, you just need Netguard. It's not native, but Apple needs this too. Apple also needs an ability to *force* an app to only have read or write access to photos. I was shocked that Pokemon Go had the ability to "only write" photos, like they are actually doing it securely. There is zero need for an app like Imgur to have BOTH read and write just because they say they do. Yes, I don't need to install their app then, but it also wouldn't break it if I only let them add photos, and if it needed to ask each time it wanted to read. Just better security.
  • I definitely don't recommend turning on encrypted backups by default. I recently had to restore from a back up in order to try to resolve an issue with my Air Pods. Unfortunately, I'd forgotten my iTunes backups were encrypted and couldn't remember for the life of me the clever password I created. I tried everything and then gave up and set up the device as new. At least I was able to sync my music library back to the phone and I'd backed up my pictures to my Western Digital NAS drive. No more encrypted backups for me unless I tattoo the password to my leg. :(