As protests, rhetoric, and news coverage following the death George Floyd, companies across America, and more globally have waded into the fray one-by-one. Apple, of course, is no exception. Across the course of the week, Tim Cook has addressed both employees at Apple and the wider public, it has donated to several worthy causes relevant to the topic at hand, and it even changed its curated programming on Apple Music for a day to draw attention to the protest. Apple stores boarded up across America to protect them from vandalism have been adorned with messages of hope and support for the #BLM movement, reflecting Apple's own message.
Apple has responded admirably to the events of recent days. Yet no company is, or should, be above scrutiny of its public messages and statements. Many companies who came out in support of protests and the #BLM movement were quickly reminded of skeletons in the closet that suggest at a deeper level, there's plenty left to do. Apple is no exception.
Apple should rightly be praised for everything that it has done this week in response to current events. In a thoughtful memo, Tim Cook told Apple's employees "we must do more" stating:
But together, we must do more. Today, Apple is making donations to a number of groups, including the Equal Justice Initiative, a non-profit committed to challenging racial injustice, ending mass incarceration, and protecting the human rights of the most vulnerable people in American society. For the month of June, and in honor of the Juneteenth holiday, we'll also be matching two-for-one all employee donations via Benevity.
Much to the joy of Twitter, on Tuesday Apple, took part in 'Black Out Tuesday' and #TheShowMustBePaused, a music industry-wide initiative with the following message at its heart:
"We will not continue to conduct business as usual without regard for Black lives."
Apple suspended its usual curation of music, instead directing all users to 'Listen Together' to a single station of music by African American and Black artists, including iconic rap songs written in defiance of police brutality.
In another bold display of solidarity, Tim Cook also penned an open letter titled 'Speaking up on racism', which was pinned to the front page of Apple's website in place of its products. In that letter Cook said:
To create change, we have to reexamine our own views and actions in light of a pain that is deeply felt but too often ignored. Issues of human dignity will not abide standing on the sidelines. To the Black community — we see you. You matter and your lives matter.
As noted in Apple's statements, Apple has also made several donations to groups including the Equal Justice Initiative and is matching employee donations two-to-one.
Apple also deserves to be commended for what it didn't say over the course of the week. As protests were overshadowed by violence and looting, several Apple stores were badly damaged and thousands of dollars in display tech and accessories were stolen from shop floors. A drop in the ocean for Apple, the cost of reparation will still be staggering. Yet Apple chose to say nothing of violence and the targeting of its own stores, seemingly aware that to turn the attention to the rioting and looting would deflect the narrative away from the issue at hand, and the message of the vast majority of peaceful protestors.
Like all of us, Apple can do more, and many were quick to highlight Apple's shortcomings when it comes to other issues of social and political justice. One example would be Hong Kong, where in eerily similar events last year, Apple banned a Hong Kong mapping app designed to help residents move around the city safely, avoiding pockets of violence and unrest. The developer of the app said that there was no evidence to support assertions that the app was being used to target the police or threaten public safety, the reason Apple gave for its removal.
Apple had previously kowtowed to the Chinese government on other issues, the same week removing the Quartz news app from the Chinese App Store at the behest of the government. The only notice given to the developer was that it contained content that was "illegal" in China, the developer argued that its "excellent" coverage of the Hong Kong protests may have been the real reason.
Similarly, Apple also received criticism for removing the flag of Taiwan from the iOS emoji keyboard. Taiwan has operated as an independent nation since 1950 but is still considered by China to be a rebellious part of China by the government, which does not recognize its sovereignty.
A similar incident involved Apple changing how Apple Maps displayed Crimea and Sevastopol, a disputed territory between Ukraine and Russia, so as to portray them as Russian territories. Russian chess champion Garry Kasparov described the move as "unacceptable appeasement."
All of this is to say that this past week, Apple has played all of the right notes, in the right order. It has said the right things, but previous instances mentioned show that Apple hasn't always put its best foot forward with this sort of thing. Make no mistake these are delicate issues, but this week shows that Apple is more than capable of addressing delicate issues eloquently. If Apple wants to keep moving in that direction, then it should really start paying closer attention to issues like Crimea and Hong Kong, each one a small opportunity for Apple to put its foot down, standing on the side of justice and the oppressed, not kowtowing to big governments or taking the path of least resistance.