Apple, taxes, and duty to shareholders

Apple is taking a bit of a beating in the press this week as Congressional investigators have revealed that Apple has avoided billions in taxes through completely legal—yet unattractive—means. (The New York Times notes that other companies, like Google, Amazon, and Starbucks have used similar tax avoidance methods.)

While the thought of a company avoiding taxes like this offends me, I’m going to come to Apple’s defense here. The reason is very simple: Apple has no other choice. Corporations are legally obligated to maximize returns for shareholders. If Apple’s leadership didn’t take advantage of these tax loopholes, shareholders would have the legal right to force the company to do it.

The fault here is not Apple’s. The fault lies in the tax code that contains these loopholes and in antiquated corporation law that doesn’t permit Apple or any other corporation to be good corporate citizens.

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Security and hacking nightmare

Wired Magazine journalist Mat Honan had his life hacked over the weekend. Hackers exploited security weaknesses in Amazon and Apple’s iCloud service to take over his Twitter account and Google account. They used the Twitter account to post all sort of racist and homophobic messages. That’s embarrassing, but it’s also minor compared to what else he went through.

In a nutshell, the hackers were able to disable his iPhone, disable his iPad, and wipe his MacBook. As in erase everything, including the last year or two of photographs of his young daughter. (Foolishly, Mat did not have a backup, and he accepts that if he had one, certain irreplaceable things wouldn’t be probably lost forever.)

If you are at all concerned about having someone take over your digital life, you need to read that article in full. Right. Freakin’. Now. You need to understand just how easy it was for these hackers to bypass the security measures at Amazon and Apple. Once the hackers got through those, everything else was even easier.

Don’t think for a minute that Mat Honan set himself up as a target for hackers. They did it for a very simple reason that had nothing to do with him. You can’t assume that since you’re a “nobody” online that hackers wouldn’t target you.

There are lessons to be learned here:

  • Back up your data. All of it. In multiple places. On my work laptop, I use an external hard drive divided into two partitions. One partition uses Apple’s Time Machine backup. The other partition is a clone of the hard drive that gets updated each night. I also use CrashPlan so I have an off-site backup as well. I figure three layers of backup, with one being off site, is a good level of protection. I duplicate this arrangement with the home laptop. With CrashPlan, I can back up unlimited data from as many computers as I want for one reasonable annual fee. They don’t advertise as much as, say, Carbonite, but I think CrashPlan is the best of the online backup options.
  • Don’t use one email address and one password for everything. I’ve written about passwords before, and if you reuse passwords you’re a fool. I hate to be so blunt and insulting, but it’s a fact. Don’t reuse passwords. Period. Not even once.
  • Use smart passwords.
  • Turn on two-factor authentication on Google accounts. This takes a couple minutes to set up, but basically it requires anyone signing into your Google account to have your password and your phone. When you sign in, you’ll have to also type in a code from your phone.

Mat Honan’s story is an important one to read. I consider myself to be reasonably cautious about my online security practices, but I have to admit it: what happened to Mat scared the hell out of me. I’ve already gone and turned on Google’s two-factor authentication and taken other steps based on what happened to Mat Honan. (Needless to say, “Find my Mac” is now turned off.) We all know people who have skipped simple things and paid a price later. Don’t be one of those who stand amid the wreckage of their digital lives and say, “I should have…”

iPad 3

The word is out: March 7 will be the date when Apple, Inc. will reveal the next iPad, presumably to be called the iPad 3. It sounds like the new iteration of this magical device will sport a higher definition display and a faster processor.

As the user of an original iPad, I’m thinking that this might be the time to upgrade. I have noticed that at times my iPad seems to do things a little more slowly than newer models. It is not a huge bother, though. A nicer display is, well, nice. I don’t know, however, that it would be enough to justify the upgrade. The desire to not be seen toting older technology may be the only justification I can come up with.

Still, we will see what the new specs are and what the new device can do that my iPad can’t. Speed isn’t a huge issue since I do a lot of reading on my iPad—and a faster processor won’t make me read any faster. I don’t need a camera (although doing Face Time on my iPad would be a nice plus) since I have the terrific camera in the iPhone 4S. If there’s something really new, cool and useful, I may find myself unable to resist the urge.

What would you need to see on the iPad 3 to justify purchasing a new one?

Hey Apple, here’s an idea for Siri

I’m not a coder, so I don’t know the complexities involved, but it occurred to me over the weekend that it would be great if I could tell Siri on my iPhone 4S something like “Add [this task] to OmniFocus.” (Of course, if the task appeared in the OmniFocus in box, that’d be even better.)

Granted, there may be a way to do this type of thing now, and I haven’t spent more than a second or two thinking about it before writing this post. So, if it can be done, please share the how-to in the comments!

Finally, how many others would like to see Siri show up in iOS 5.1 on other devices? 🙂

Thank you, Steve

When the news broke that Steve Jobs resigned as CEO, I was afraid that this day was fast approaching. I hoped I was wrong, but sadly I was not. Looking back at all the things Steve has done, I have to put him in the pantheon of people like Walt Disney. From the Apple ][ computers that I cut my teeth on, to the Mac, to the Next computer and OS, then iPods, iPhones, and iPads, it’s impossible to give the guy enough credit.

It is said that working for Steve could be hard. He wasn’t afraid to call what you had worked on a piece of sh**. His defenders say it was just Steve’s

way of pushing his people to do what they didn’t realize they were capable of. Either way, Steve’s keen eye for junk meant we don’t have crappy iPhones in our pockets.

I’m saddened that Steve died. While my sympathies are with his family and friends, what saddens me most is that Steve will not be around to see what our world will look like ten years from now. He won’t walk around and enjoy Apple’s future campus in Palo Alto. People like Steve don’t just bring great things to the world, they enjoy watching the world and being a part of the present. Pancreatic cancer cheated Steve out of many things.

There are no good words to close a brief remembrance like this. I only know that it seems the stars in the sky are a little dimmer than normal tonight.