Recently Cult of Mac, a website dedicated to all things Apple from the fan’s perspective, published a piece titled “The Biggest Apple Stories of 2013.” In it, the author recounts the product and software highlights, sales, profit, and hires for the world’s largest company. The piece is a toast to capitalist greed and the smarmy, self-righteousness of the kings of Silicon Valley. Notably, other important Apple stories, listed below, were not on this list.
The Environmental & Social Horrors of Mining for its Supply Chain
In July protests at several Apple Stores were organized by Friends of the Earth to spotlight the implications of mining tin in Indonesia. Tin is used for soldering Apple products. Miners have been injured and killed, the silt run-off from mines poses a threat to coral and sea life, and the deforestation that follows increased mining causes acidification of soil, damaging the region’s small farms and rural communities.
Income Inequality & Gentrification
In recent months protesters in the San Francisco have targeted the private corporate busses used by Apple, Google, and Facebook to ferry their affluent, gentrifying employees to and fro Silicon Valley. Protesters call attention to the role tech companies play in driving up housing prices, and the consequential purging of middle and low income residents from the area. They are also upset that these private coaches have been using the city’s Muni stops for free, while others have pointed out that privatized transport for a huge pool of regional workers undermines public transportation.
Apple continues to come under fire in the US and the UK for its tax dodging scheme, cleverly nicknamed “iDodge Tax” by Irish comedian Mark Thomas. In June Thomas led 50 people in a protest outside of Apple’s London flagship store against the corporation’s use of Ireland as a tax shelter. Protesters pointed out that one of Apple’s holding companies, Apple Sales International, paid only 0.0135 percent in tax on its $74 billion in earnings in 2012. Thomas noted that schemes such as these have contributed to the economic austerity gripping Europe.
A few weeks later more than 60 protesters crowded a Chicago Apple Store to draw attention to the same issue, pointing out that low-income Chicago residents pay more percentage-wise in tax than does the world’s most valuable company. Like their UK counterparts, they drew a connection between the use of tax shelters and the nationwide defunding of education and human services. Chicago in particular has been hit hard this last year with school closings and teacher layoffs.
As Eileen Appelbaum pointed out on CounterPunch back in May, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook is pushing a corporate tax reform measure that would even further lighten Apple’s already low US tax liability.
iBeacon is Watching You
iBeacon, a new feature in iOS 7 that Apple claims acts as a “personal shopper,” went live in early December. The app guides i-device toting Apple Store customers to products, and updates employees on customer orders. The app uses push technology to let iPhone customers know if they are eligible for an upgrade while they browse in the store.
The technology is poised to be deployed by retailers all over the world, requiring only an iPad or iPhone with iOS 7 to serve as an iBeacon device within a store. TechCrunch reports that as many as 190 million iOS devices are iBeacon-ready, and this number will swell to over 250 million soon. An Android version is in development.
The scale of this consumerist technology is unsettling, as is its surveillance function. While Apple has taken a public stance against the widespread digital surveillance of the PRISM program, despite its historical compliance with it, the company clearly has no moral qualms about using surveillance technology for its own profit.
Fueling the “Apple Picking” Phenomenon
Last year Apple spent $1 billion on advertising–a small investment given its brand is valued at over $98 billion—making it the most valuable brand in the world. The iPhone, with its high price point and value as a status symbol, is a lucrative theft target. A stolen iPhone can fetch as much as $200 domestically and far more overseas. Mobile security firm Lookout estimates that the annual value of lost and stolen smartphones is $30 billion.
The Federal Communications Committee reported that 1.6 million Americans were robbed of a digital handheld device (smartphone or tablet) in 2012. Statistics from around the country reveal that most of those were Apple iPhones, and that the iPhone fuels the trend. In Washington, D.C. between the release of the iPhone in 2007 and 2011, thefts of mobile phones increased by 54 percent. In both San Francisco and New York City the rise in thefts of handheld devices has caused a spike in the crime rate, which is otherwise trending downward. In San Francisco, where nearly half of the population owns an iPhone, half of all thefts in 2012 involved a smartphone, while nationally the rate is one third. In London this year about half of mobile phones stolen were iPhones.
Law enforcement officials nationwide, lead by San Francisco District Attorney George GascÃ³n, began this year advocating for a “kill switch” that would render a stolen phone unusable. Apple responded by building into iOS 7 a feature that does just that. While this might stem the tide of thefts, this feature does nothing to address the root of the problem–the rampant global income and wealth inequality generated by global corporations like Apple.
Sucking Los Angeles Schools Dry to the Tune of $1 Billion
Apple announced in June that it had signed a $30 million contract to supply iPads to all 650,000 students in the Los Angeles Unified School District. The largest public school system in the nation, LAUSD planned at the time to equip every student, teacher, and administrator with a device by 2015. The school board voted unanimously in favor of the project, which would ultimately cost the district $1 billion.
Apple’s press release quoted board member Jaime Aquino as saying they chose the iPad because it was the cheapest tablet option, coming equipped with the Pearson Common Core System of Courses, Apple’s iWork, iLife, and iTunes software, and other educational software.
The iPads themselves will cost $500 million at $678 per device, with the other $500 million allocated to expenses like installing wireless networks at each school. The program will be paid for with long-term construction bonds, and the district plans to use the devices to not only implement the Common Core curriculum, but also for upcoming state standardized tests.
However, since the initial celebratory rollout at the start of the school year, the Los Angeles Times has run a series of articles detailing a range of problems with the program, including the questionable use of long-term construction bonds to pay for the project, and students unlocking the devices for other uses and leaving them at home. In the first month 71 iPads went missing, and by mid October the district had begun recalling them from some campuses.
The LA Times also revealed that the $1 billion plan had hidden costs, like an additional $100 per device for software updates until the district reaches the $400 million purchase mark with Apple, and an additional $38 million, as yet approved, for the purchase of keyboards.
Yet, despite the problems, and teacher, parent, and union dissent, the board approved the second phase of the project in November. LAUSD will spend $135 million more for the purchase of another 70,000 iPads, as well as MacBook laptops for all students and teachers at the district’s 7 high schools.
Public dissent seems to have had some impact on the costly plan, as the school board voted in late December to reduce the number of iPads planned for the next rollout, saving the district $25 million. Further, a school board oversight committee has asked for more evidence justifying the necessity of iPads for state testing.
With programs such as these Apple’s iPad has cornered the education market. There are 10 million iPads in schools around the world today, accounting for nearly all of educational tablets shipped during the first half of 2013. LA Times reporter Steve Lopez pointed out in April, prior to the finalization of the deal spearheaded by LAUSD schools superintendent John Deasy, that “people with ties to tech companies were among the major donors to a political action committee that supports Deasy-friendly school board candidates,” including a $250,000 donation from “the parent corporation of a company that sells tablet computers designed for schools,” and a $200,000 gift from “a group headed by the widow of Apple founder Steve Jobs.” Politically oriented donations such as these seem to be paying off for Apple, which according to a November study by IDG has seen its tablet shipments increase by nearly 50 percent since 2012.