Has Apple Mishandled the Question of the Security of Private Information Stored on iCloud?

Note: this post was written on September 3, 2014

In, perhaps, one of the strongest examples, in recent memory, of the wisdom of Murphy’s Law, Apple finds itself 6 calendar days away from a major announcement, but the promising opportunity it presents (for Apple to advance the positive features of its brand) is moving further away from its grasp, seemingly by the moment. In fact, the September 9, 2014 scheduled even may even be transformed into an unpleasant question and answer session on a difficult topic if public sentiment continues to trend further in its present direction.

Unfortunately for Apple, on Labor Day, September 1, 2014, a story broke detailing the theft of personal information — photographs — of at least one celebrity, Jennifer Lawrence. But the theft of Lawrence’s personal data, apparently a hack of her iCloud account, is not, in this writer’s opinion, the complete problem facing Apple just a few days from its otherwise promising fall public relations event.

The real problem is how Apple’s own Public Relations team has responded to questions about the security of iCloud as a cloud SaaS offer for secure online storage of personal data.

Without thrashing over the details of the response, it should suffice to sum it up as an editorial denial of legitimacy. In other words, Apple’s public voice states, forcibly, the claims iCloud is insecure are all wrong.

The problem with this type of rhetorical convention is the way it moves the focus of debate away from the points likely to matter to an ISV (in this case Apple), and over to points of vulnerability for the general public, where the odds of Apple’s PR team successfully convincing an audience of the truth of this editorial position aren’t nearly as promising.

So, for the more technical segment of Apple’s public audience, the focus has now shifted to a document in Apple’s knowledge base, Apple ID: Security and Your Apple ID. Sure, most of the text of the article spells out steps Apple has taken to seamlessly protect its users (these are summed up in the mandatory requirement of complex passwords). But, tellingly, the section on the optional step of enabling two step verification over one’s Apple ID doesn’t work to Apple’s favor. Given the gravity of delivering a secure cloud, SaaS computing experience for the general public, the technical segment appears to argue a safeguard like two-step authentication, ought not to have been presented as an option. Rather, it should have been plainly presented as a mandatory control each and every user must take.

After all, from a risk management perspective, a control like two step verification should be a mandatory feature of a truly secure repository located anywhere. But presenting this control as a mandatory step is, today, is a tacit assumption of a “best of all possible worlds” view with regard to how the general public goes about completing their computing activities. In contrast, the computing realities of 2014 have been designed more to “dumb down” potentially complex computing procedures like two step verification, than to foster them. So Apple lines up with its peers, and adopts a more lenient stance as regards the applications of these controls.

Unfortunately, the reason for scrutiny of Apple’s policy doesn’t work to this ISV’s favor. Once again, Apple is certainly not alone in this, but the choice of the public relations team to deny the obvious, in this writer’s opinion, should have been subjected to more scrutiny before it was publicized.

The lesson here for early stage ISVs is to plan on reacting to a problem like Apple’s by admitting culpability, rather than denying it. After all, the point of weakness, in this case, is precisely the same for any number of Apple’s peers. Apple could have chosen to stand up as a leader and notify the public of a decision to make two step verification a mandatory control over all Apple IDs. Let’s all hope they needn’t come to regret the position they took.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved


Microsoft Announces Release of a New Version of SharePoint Online

Public announcements about products should be carefully timed and composed. Press releases, public appearances by company executives and even marketplace opinion pieces must all be closely coordinated with a product brand. Marketing communications efforts must adhere to the same guidelines.

But an apparent announcement by Microsoft® of a release of a new version of SharePoint Online, surprised us.

We maintain an Office 365 Enterprise E3 Plan account and recently completely a migration (actually, the migration occurred on April 6, 2013) to a new version of SharePoint Online. Our user interface is now consistent with SharePoint 2013, on premises. So what is this announcement all about?

Mystery can certainly be used to build market anticipation for a product. But the mystery enveloping yet another “new release” to a recently implemented “new release” for SharePoint Online, confused us. We expect lots of other SharePoint Online customers will experience the same confusion. Especially when the uncertain nature of the timing of the upgrade is factored in.

We think the public relations team could have done a better job at managing the public announcement of this “upgrade”. Unfortunately, this gaffe occurred soon after a couple of much more encouraging public announcements from Microsoft, which lead us to think (the prior two posts to this blog treated these announcements) the company had substantially, and successfully renovated its public relations strategy.

Reading the announcement on the Office 365 Blog, an article on the Redmond Mag web site, and some other opinions, we could not help but think how much better the announcement could have been handled by simply one spokesperson. A carefully composed notice, with specific details differentiating May’s “upgrade” from April’s “upgrade” would have been helpful.

Early stage ISVs grappling with how best to handle public relations can learn a lot from studying the activities of Microsoft’s PR team over the last month.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2013 All Rights Reserved


New Public Relations Strategy at Microsoft Eschews Denial and Affirms Public Opinion

On May 7, 2013, the online edition of The Wall Street Journal published an article authored by Shira Ovide, Microsoft Concedes Windows 8 Misses Expectations. We liked what we read in this article. Here’s why:

  • In a short statement, Ms. Tami Reller, co-head of the Windows Division, broadly echoed marketplace sentiment about the quality of the Windows 8 launch: ” . . . and frankly we also didn’t get everything we dreamed of done in the first release . . .”
  • Shira Ovide summed up Microsoft’s recent public announcements about “Windows Blue” as ” . . . an unusually frank admission about the shortcomings of its Windows 8 operating system . . . “
  • The focus of the article shifted from Steve Balmer bashing to lots of details from Ms. Ovide’s conversation with Ms. Reller, which proved much healthier for Microsoft

It’s certainly difficult for a market leader to gracefully change its public persona from an organization frequently perceived as calculating, to one now voicing a ” . . . frank admission about . . . shortcomings”, but the PR team at Microsoft appears to have changed the view with this article.

PR does not exist in a vacuum. Marketing communications, and even customer relations activities from both sales and marketing teams also contribute to the public brand message. If Microsoft can exhibit more of this transformation through these other product marketing avenues, the market message will have to improve.

We don’t see the same disconnect with the promotional effort for Microsoft SharePoint, another product with a huge share of the market for a wide range of enterprise business requirements, including collaboration, document management, and business intelligence gathering. Despite analyst knocks we think SharePoint 2013 and, particularly, SharePoint Online, Office 365 is doing very well. Most of the brand management effort for this product has been handled by the application design team. The interface is visually much more appealing. Product features are also more accessible for business users.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2013 All Rights Reserved


Microsoft Implements a Welcome Shift in its Public Relations Plan for Windows 8

Public Relations is an important tool in the product branding process for any business. Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) need to skillfully implement a Public Relations function. Early stage ISVs can benefit from a study of the activities of mature, large ISVs.

Microsoft®‘s Public Relations function has been very visible over the last several months. Many brands are in a state of transition at the company. While its marketing communications efforts have maintained a consistent tone throughout these changes, the Public Relations strategy appeared to take a significant shift in direction in early May, 2013.

Let’s focus on the launch of the new Windows 8 operating system. Windows 8 debuted in the fall of 2012. A serious Public Relations problem arose soon after:

  1. Steven Sinovsky, Head of the Windows products division abruptly left the company. Formal comments from Microsoft indicated problems for Mr. Sinovsky arising from what we, and likely the public, could only construe as a breakdown in the proper performance of the marketing team — not the picture Public Relations would otherwise want to paint for the public

Controversy arose soon after the launch of the product about actual sales numbers for Windows 8 licenses. As Tom Warren wrote on The Verge on April 26, 2013, Six months on, Windows 8 sales are a mystery, despite an early announcement of sales of 40 million licenses for the new OS as of the end of November, 2012, and an additional 60 million announced in January of 2013, ” . . . at the current point in the Windows 8 rollout, Redmond has not yet disclosed the latest figures. Microsoft’s Q3 earnings have come and gone, and Windows revenue was flat despite a reported downturn in PC sales. At the same time in Windows 7’s history three years ago, Microsoft was declaring it ‘by far the fastest-selling operating system in history” with over 10 percent of all PCs running Windows 7. The company also announced 100 million license sales for Windows 7 on April 27th, 2010.'” (quoted entirely from Mr. Warren’s article. Please click the link we’ve provided to read the complete article).

Bottom line, the actual sales number are, at a minimum controversial, and at best indicative of a very cool reception for the product by the public.

Finally, questions were arising around the same time about Microsoft’s product distribution strategy. These questions stemmed from the company’s decision to enter the computing hardware business with the Surface tablet.

We think it’s useful to file most of the Public Relations tactics we’ve noted here in the “denial” bucket. The message of the denial bucket is “we’re fine, they’re wrong”. In the next post to this blog we’ll speak to the shift we noted early this month in the Public Relations strategy, to one better labeled “sober acceptance”. We think this message is working better.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2013 All Rights Reserved