For Steve Jobs, it's not business. It's personal.
This week, during a rare public chat at a conference in Southern California, the Apple boss let slip that a sweeping change to the iPhone SDK terms of service was made in a very personal fit of anger — a fit that lingers, more than four months on. The change was made in reaction to the behavior of a single company, but like Apple's ban on translated Adobe Flash, it amounts to a scorched earth policy, a change that burns countless others across the Jobsian ecosystem.
In April, Apple barred iPhone and iPad applications from using third-party analytics software that slurps up data detailing the devices and their location, and when Jobs was asked about this on Tuesday, he said the change was made after the company discovered that one particular analytics outfit — the San Francisco-based Flurry Analytics — had lifted info from device prototypes used inside Apple.
"One day we read in the paper that a company called Flurry Analytics has detected that we have some new iPhone and other tablet devices that we’re using on our campus," Jobs said. "We thought: What the hell?"
In late January, Flurry vice president Peter Farago tossed up a blog post saying the company had pinpointed fifty tablets inside Apple prior to the public introduction of the iPad. "Using Flurry Analytics, the company identified approximately 50 devices that match the characteristics of Apple's rumored tablet device. Because Flurry could reliably 'place' these devices geographically on Apple's Cupertino campus, we have a fair level of confidence that we are observing a group of pre-release tablets in testing," Farago said.
"Testing of this device increased dramatically in January, with observed signs of life as early as October of last year."
"So we said: 'No. We're not going to allow this.' This is violating our privacy policies and it's pissing us off — that they're publishing data about our new products."
Shades, then, of Jobs' very personal attack on Adobe Flash — manifested in another sweeping change to the iPhone SDK that caused so much collateral damage. If Jobs is concerned for the privacy of all those fanbois buying iPhone and iPads, he's more concerned with his pathological efforts to hide what goes on inside his own company. It's a pathology that mirrors his (well-documented) obsession with his personal privacy.
He said "we," but the line between "we" and "I" is thin. "[Developers] can't send data out to an analytics firm who's going to sell it to make money and publish it to tell everyone that we have devices on our campus that we don't want people to know about it."
Yes, analytic services should ask the user for gathering device data. But Apple has banned all device data collection — whether permission is asked or not — and Jobs makes it clear that the decision was made to prevent leaks from the company itself.
When a questioner pointed out that analytics data can be extremely useful to developers, Jobs said he would be willing to discuss this — once he calmed down. "There's no excuse for them not asking the customer whether it's appropriate to send that personal, private data to an analytics firm, which they were not doing," he explained. "And secondly, after we calm down from being pissed off, then we're willing to talk to some of these analytics firms. But it's not today."
The man was speaking four months after Flurry's post was published — and years after the first tablet rumors were leaked. But the anger still shines through:
Flurry's Peter Farago tells The Reg that the company is updating its service to comply with Apple's new terms of service. "On the issue of device data, we are updating our analytics service to comply with [the new SDK language]. We will not collect device data. All in all, the changes required to be in compliance will have little impact on the usefulness we provide to developers about how to improve their applications, and how to continue to increase consumer satisfaction," he said.
And he says — in so many words — that the company won't divulge info about what's going on inside Apple. "Regarding sharing some specific aggregated usage statistics, to which Apple is opposed, we will comply with their wishes."
For "their," read "his." ®