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Why Apple Can Take a Bigger Stand Against Trump Than Its Rivals

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Why Apple Can Take a Bigger Stand Against Trump Than Its Rivals
Whatever happens at the Republican National Convention next month, one thing is clear: It won't be brought to you by Apple. The firm won't be providing any funding or support for the convention, according to news reports.

Apple has been more outspoken on public policy issues than many of its peers in Silicon Valley. A report from Politico said that its latest move is because of the rhetoric of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Many of Trump's positions, particularly on immigration, clash with the political stances of tech firms.

Apple, which declined to comment on the reports, is arguably in a unique position among tech companies to take big political stands. Not only does its size insulate it against some backlash, but it is also protected because expressing political opinions does little damage to the reputation of its products.

That's not true for many other tech titans. Facebook learned emphatically this election cycle that the appearance of impartiality counts. After the controversy with "Trending Topics" and accusations of conservative censorship - accusations, it should be said, Facebook denies - it makes sense that the firm would tread lightly to maintain a sense of neutrality. So, despite the fact that chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has taken a pretty clear and public swipe at Trump, Facebook itself is sticking to the central path.

"Facebook will support both the Republican and Democratic conventions in a similar manner and without endorsing any one candidate, issue, or political party," Erin Egan, Facebook's vice president of US public policy, said in a statement to The Washington Post. "We believe encouraging this ongoing conversation is important because an informed debate about the candidates and the issues is essential to the democratic process."

Meanwhile, Google is in a similar position with its search engine. The firm has strenuously denied reports that it biases its search engine results to favor Hillary Clinton. Google will provide the technology to live-stream the Republican and Democratic conventions, but has not commented on whether it plans to sponsor events or make other donations.

Apple, however, is still largely a company that makes phones and the personal stuff that comes with them, rather than dealing in information. Although Apple is making inroads into the publishing business with Apple News, its platform doesn't have nearly the reach of Facebook or Google - and therefore, people don't look to it to be an arbiter of information in the same way. And so, despite the growing activism of Apple chief executive Tim Cook, there are still plenty of people who use iPhones and don't agree with Apple's stances on political issues.

There's also certainly no love lost between Apple and the Trump wing of the Republican Party. Trump has repeatedly criticized Apple for its reliance on foreign labor as well as for its stance - widely supported in Silicon Valley - to oppose FBI demands to unlock the phone of San Bernardino, Calif., shooter Syed Rizwan Farook. Still, it does seem as though Apple is committed to making friends on both sides of the aisle - Cook will host a fundraiser for House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., according to a separate Politico report.

Trump does seem to be the sticking point for Apple, as seems to be true for other companies as well. Apple's decision also falls in line with a broader campaign from the political action committee for advocacy group ColorofChange, which has asked several companies to divest from the Republican convention to protest Trump's remarks.

Among tech firms, Hewlett-Packard has also said that it will not make cash donations to the convention. Microsoft has said it will significantly cut back its participation. Motorola has said it will not donate to either convention.

Non-tech firms that have said they will either not participate or cut back their participation in the Republican convention include Coca-Cola, UPS, Ford, JP Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo. Organizers for the convention did not respond to a request for comment.

ColorofChange spokesman Rashad Robinson said that his group has focused on tech firms to take a stand because they deal in the business of being forward-looking -- and, his group believes, Trump's rhetoric is not. This is not a campaign that the group plans on running every four years, he said, but one that it felt it needed to run to combat comments that Trump has made about women, Muslims and immigrants.

The advocacy group has directed ads at tech company employees -- targeting the IP addresses of prominent firms - to drum up popular support among Silicon Valley's rank and file.

"Tech companies in many ways are signals of the future," Robinson said. "They're creating the innovation and the tools of what we will use in the future. And if you think about the America that Donald Trump is attacking, it's the America of the future."

And although he said he understands that firms such as Facebook and Google have to be careful about appearing biased, he also thinks that it would be possible to take a stand by denying financial donations without compromising their neutrality.

"We understand the role of those platforms have for covering events," he said.

© 2016 The Washington Post

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