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Is Big Apple Watching You? Silently?

This post was written by Phil Kam, Cision Analysis’ director of new services who is integrating social media analysis into general PR measurement protocol.

By now, most of you following tech news know that a week ago, researchers Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden announced during a Where 2.0 conference their discovery that iPhones and 3G iPads are regularly recording the position of your device into a hidden file. These databases are regularly being restored across backups—even device migrations. The security and privacy implications prompted watchdog groups to call for an immediate answer from Apple. One week later, Apple released an official statement saying users were “confused” about what exactly the company was doing with this data—the system was collecting “anonymous traffic data” for location-based services, not tracking iPhone owners. The company promised to update the software to log only seven days worth of data, rather than several months.

From a sample of 10,000 semantic-relevant conversations Cision analyzed on this topic, there has been an obvious upward trend in negative sentiment toward Apple, jumping 2% even after Apple released the official statement. Distrust toward Apple’s explanations are expressed by open accusations of an Apple cover up, and sarcastic posts along the lines of, “Sure, we believe you!”.

Is a week too long to respond to controversy? In this case, yes, especially considering that anti-tracking apps were released just one day after the Where 2.0 announcement was made.

From the first report of this controversy, Apple’s refusal to comment was highlighted. Media coverage painted Apple as ignoring subsequent communications from government officials (i.e. Senator Al Franken) requesting explanations. And when rumor spread of an email response from Steve Jobs to a MacRumors reader, it looked like Jobs was denying such tracking protocol while adding that Google’s Androids contain the same functionality. By the time Apple released a statement a week later, these events had caused general distrust in social media conversations toward Apple. Everyone seemed to notice—and talk about—the period of silence.

Would it have made a difference if Apple had been proactive in providing explanations during the week of uncontrolled social chatter? Judging by the upward trend in negative sentiment, Apple had opportunities to manage the crisis more effectively with quicker responses, but simply opted out.

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Cision's research staff makes over 20,000 media updates to Cision's Media Database each day! For more updates and other thought leadership in the industry, follow @Media_Moves.

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