Should you boycott Apple?

What's right for me might not be for you.

On July 4th, I declared independence from Apple, weeks after pledging to boycott the company's products. The independence story is among my post popular posts (based on pageviews), and it's most-Liked and most-commented. I inadvertently tapped into some surprisingly strong emotions about the fruit-logo company and unmeaningly joined the boycott Apple movement. Looks like I'm not the only person mad about recent patent bullying, although other boycotters add more complaints.

Boycotters Bite Apple

I first got wind of something before going to Google I/O two weeks ago. I saw #boycottapple hashtags in some of my social network streams, and in ever-increasing numbers. Yesterday, while being interviewed by a BBC reporter about Google, I mentioned the observation and suggested the reporter should look into it.

I did some looking myself: #boycottapple is a popular and active hashtag on Google+, Reddit and Twitter. The bulk of posts on Reddit and Twitter revolve around Apple's preliminary injunction against Galaxy Nexus (since lifted). Google+ is quite active.

This new boycott activity resumes from a lull. Working conditions at Foxconn facilities in China, where many Apple products are assembled, sparked calls for a boycott about six months ago. Since someone is sure to ask in comments why I didn't boycott then, I'll answer now. Two reasons:

  • Western liberals imposed their own values about working conditions in a country whose circumstances they didn't understand. Interference that seemingly might improve the livelihood of some could cause harm to many others. Example: Complaints coming from workers after their hours were reduced to align more with Western standards. Many of them wanted the overtime. This wasn't a case of genocide -- the Prime Directive applies.
  • Apple made a seemingly good-faith effort to work with Foxconn and Chinese authorities, even though motivations are conflicted. China is Apple's second-most important region, based on revenue. The point: The company acted to protect its business interests in China as much as diffuse negative publicity in Western news media and blogs.

Regarding the newer boycott, unquestionably Apple's patent bullying is core motivator. Someone asks on Reddit: "Is this somehow started by or otherwise related to Joe Wilcox's boycott?" Not that I see. The hashtag trends highest around court rulings related to Apple patent lawsuits.

This image posted on Google+, by David Meetze, appropriately captures popular sentiments behind boycott Apple.

Apple Journalist Bites Back

Last night, Mike Elgan's July 7th commentary "Why the 'boycott Apple' movement is dumb" showed up in my Google+ stream. Oh? So it's a movement now? Good thing Elgan told us all.

I shared Elgan's post, observing that if boycott Apple is so dumb, why write about it? His post reads rather defensively, like the opposite is true -- that the so-called movement actually bites Apple. He blames the patent system as one excuse for Apple's behavior. That's no excuse for abusing the broken system. No one twists Apple's arm -- or any other company's, for that matter -- to sue, and almost exclusively competitors.

To my Google+ post, Brian Medeiros comments: "If Apple doesn't want to be the poster child for the poor system then they can sit back and let someone else take the hate. They weren't the only company abusing labor in China but they became the face of it and it brought some change".

"We should blame the patent system, but patents are never going to change as long as big companies can make a business out of abusing the current system", Tristan Cunha adds. "At some point the lawsuits are going to become so ridiculous that people are going to have to stand up and say 'this isn't about protecting innovation anymore, and this is actually hurting the functioning of the free market and holding back good products'".

Well, if there really is a boycott Apple movement, Cunha might be right and this is the company's next Foxconn moment, where its bad behavior rises above other companies. Apple's brand popularity -- and sense of being better than most other companies -- raises expectations about corporate behavior. So there's a response demanding accountability, for Apple to live up to its image. Innovate, don't litigate. Like Foxconn, which works for other tech companies but the social sphere hung out Apple alone.

There are several good rebuttals to Elgan worth reading. Among them: "Why Elgan's post was wrong" by Jonas M Luster. One paragraph succinctly captures why I abandoned Apple, selling over the last couple months my iPhone 4S, MacBook Air and AirPort Extreme router. Luster writes:

The boycott is not against a company asserting its rights. Not against a company innovating. But against a company that is trampling everything it once stood for, everything that drew in the outside developers that made it a great company, into the dust. A company that spits on its own values, takes a piss on the leg of everyone who once stood with and fought for it in the name of round pegs, Picasso, and 'We’re OPEN'.

How Did It Come to This?

I've never before boycotted any company, and until last month I mainly used Apple products as my primary devices, software and services. I don't expect anyone to follow me, and I certainly had no plans to join a movement. Whatever I thought Apple was, by behavior, it isn't today. That's why I protest really.

Perhaps the core is this: Fantasy vs reality. Without the charismatic personality of Steve Jobs, Apple has lost its humanity, or perhaps just the appearance of humanity. There are few things on this planet with so little humanity as a public company. US law treats a business like a person, which is really laughable; public companies do not share the same values as the people who run or work for them. Public companies have a single moral objective: To make money for shareholders. By any means.

Today's Apple lives up to that moral agenda quite well. Look at the record profits, over $100 billion in cash (two-thirds of which is overseas), patent lawsuits (I call them competition by litigation) and Apple's voluntary withdrawl from EPEAT Green Certification. Apple marketing claims products are green, but MacBook Pro with Retina Display's glued-in battery isn't recyclable. Removing all Macs from the program foreshadows similar design approach coming to other models. Apple made a choice, by putting design and profits (the latter is more obligation to shareholders) first.

The company's behavior butts against perceptions about its humanity. In the end, in the post-Jobs era, Apple is just another corporate carpetbagger. Any real humanity, or myth of it, went with Jobs.

Perhaps I'm just waking up to a reality always there, or perhaps Jobs put good taste and desire to improve the world with good products ahead of profits. In April, I asserted that "There is no Apple without Steve Jobs". For me, there's no Apple at all. For you?

Photo Credit: 1000 Words / Shutterstock

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