Conspiracy Theory Monday

By , 24 August, 2009, No Comment

While others were beaching it up, I spent my weekend poring over the responses from Apple, Google and AT&T; to the FCC over the iPhone-GoogleVoice snafu. AT&T; essentially repeated its earlier statement, with more umph—it takes no responsibility for what happened and says Apple was acting alone.

Apple tried to hedge it, first claiming that the GoogleVoice application hasn’t been rejected but is ‘still under review’ then listing reasons why it might deserve to be rejected. A host of tech commenters, led by Michael Arrington, called the first claim a bald-faced lie, and I’m inclined to agree. The FCC wouldn’t be investigating this if the application-rejection hadn’t provided the smoking gun. The FCC would not launch an investigation if Google’s complaint was simply that the process was just taking too long.

On the second point, however, I’m inclined to think Apple has a point. Not a legal case, to be sure (on legal grounds, I fully support them getting an FCC walloping), but a business one. Google Voice is basically a gateway drug for cloud. Google Voice is a phone system that houses your phone contacts in a data cloud; it turns audio messages into text which makes it possible to sync them with the text data cloud that most of us already have, and increasingly let Google store. In other words, Google Voice is a phone system that over time makes devices and operating systems irrelevant: Apple, which makes both those things, is right to panic.

Google is technically right to say, in the public part of its statement, that GoogleVoice doesn’t threaten the iPhone yet, because it doesn’t have that kind of data-sync as a feature. But it could. Michael Arrington et al seem not to realize that when they bluster that Apple is being petty and that GoogleVoice is nonthreatening. Because of that bias towards Google, they are busy constructing complicated theories about why Google refused to let its statement to the FCC be made fully public (as Apple and AT&T; allowed). The reigning theory at the moment is that GoogleVoice is so innocuous that a full account of how it works would reveal Steve Jobs to be a paranoid liar. I’ve also heard a version of the story in which the hidden portions of the statement describe the whole conflict as a choreographed dance between Apple and Google designed to get the FCC on Apple’s side when it dumps AT&T.;

[I have another, also conspiratorial, theory. Maybe the hidden portions tell us that Apple asked Google if it had any plans to do that data-syncing in the future and Schmidt couldn’t give Jobs a straight up-or-down answer. That signaled to Apple that the application was dangerous, and also alerted both men to the fact that they were now competitors and needed to do something about those board memberships. Google can’t show us that part of the statement, perhaps, because it would be a tacit acknowledgement that up till now, Apple and Google have been working somewhat in tandem, and they’re trying their best to deny that in a separate case.]

But let’s try to stick to things we do know for the moment: Google are the one company involved here who chose to keep material private. What does that tell us about their trustworthiness as champions for the open web?

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