Apple, AT&T, and the Rush to Judgment

Posted by: Stephen Wildstrom on August 22, 2009

Back in July, when Apple rejected the iPhone Google Voice from the iTunes App Store, the tech world instantly came to the conclusion that AT&T, iPhone’s exclusive U.S. carrier, made them do it.

In The New York Times, David Pogue blamed AT&T-Apple collusion for the “heavy-handed, Soviet information-control style.”
On TechCrunch, Jason Kincaid wrote: “Of course, it’s not hard to guess who’s behind the restriction: our old friend AT&T.” Perhaps strangest of all was a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece by Andy Kessler that charged: “How could AT&T not object? AT&T clings to the old business of charging for voice calls in minutes.” The article did not help its case by mischaracterizing how Google Voice works (it does not divert voice calls to the Internet) and by saying that Verizon Wireless, rather than Sprint, is the exclusive carrier for the Palm Pre.

What everyone believed, however, is not what happened. On Aug. 21, the FCC released responses from Apple, AT&T, and Google to its inquiry about the incident. Apple and AT&T agreed that the decisions regarding Google Voice were Apple’s alone. Google response on this point was redacted from the public version at Google’s insistence.

OK, I can hear the conspiracy theorists saying: "AT&T is lying and Apple is lying to protect its partner." Not very likely. AT&T is as savvy as any company on the planet about survival in Washington and one thing a highly regulated company does not do is lie to its primary regulator, especially in an matter where there is likely to be a paper (or e-mail) trail and where it has little to gain and much to lose by deceiving the agency. It's not clear that the FCC could actually do anything to AT&T if it had blocked Google Voice, making it less likely the company would run the risk of lying about this.

Apple, by the way, laid out a sort of reasonable case for keeping Google Voice out of the iTunes Store (they haven't rejected it, they claim--not very convincingly--but are still studying it.) I don't agree with Apple's position that its customers must be protected from apps that duplicate or somehow change core functions of the iPhone, but it is their product to manage as they see fit. (For a thoughtful discussion of this issue, I recommend Harry McCracken's "Whose iPhone Is It Anyway?"

In the end, the incident may say more about journalism, traditional or otherwise, than it does about Apple, AT&T, or Google. We journalists are a skeptical, even cynical, bunch by inclination. There was probable cause to believe in AT&T's culpability. But probable cause is grounds for further investigation, not for leaping to conclusions. Journalism is changing drastically, but the rules of fairness remain the same.

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Reader Comments

Carl Taute

August 23, 2009 07:56 PM

I doubt you'll see a Mac laptop priced anywhere near 300 - 400 dollars. Apple goes its own direction.

Jeffery Reynolds

August 23, 2009 08:37 PM

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. For bringing reason to this issue.

The knee-jerk reactions, without a scintilla of a fact sickened me yet again as I read "blogger" after "pundit" after "journalist" blame everyone from Apple to ATT to Mao for the rejection...

Which as we find out has not been rejected at all, no conspiracy, no ATT strong-arming, just Google possibly not following the rules of the iPhone SDK.

Now I look forward to apologies from Pogue, Kinkaid and everyone blogger that spread mistruths instead of saying, "all the facts are not in yet. We just don't know what is truly going on".

Insert cricket sounds here.

ChinaRussiaUnited

August 23, 2009 10:00 PM

You Americans all lie to each other and yourslefs, thats why you are in the deep mess now . The lies all catch up to you from behind. Heaven is watching and hell is waiting

ChinaRussiaUnited

August 23, 2009 10:36 PM

Take your not so high tech iPhone and US corporation lies and shove it up your asses. They have better phones with touch screens in China and Asia for years beofre the retarded iPhone came out to fool the poor American public.

ChinaRussiaUnited

August 24, 2009 11:28 PM

Take your not so high tech iPhone and US corporation lies and shove it up your asses. They have better phones with touch screens in China and Asia for years beofre the retarded iPhone came out to fool the poor American public.

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BusinessWeek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, Douglas MacMillan, and Spencer Ante dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. One of the first mainstream media tech blogs, Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.

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