Apple’s Crimea: ‘Reality distortion field 2.0’

Russia’s annexation of Crimea forces Apple to choose between sales and truth.

Posted by friend-of-the-blog Greg Bates:

This is reality distortion field 2.0. Apple’s map is fake news in service of the state. The question isn’t how can we “make sure our customers can enjoy using Maps and other Apple services, everywhere in the world [link].” Rather, it is, does Apple take the side of sales or truth? So far it’s sales. The question increasingly faced by multinational companies is, how far are we willing to go to help countries violate international law, and help powerful people like Trump get away with lies (recall Cook’s acceptance of Trump saying he had opened its factory in Texas).

These aren’t oddball skirmishes; companies usually take the money, even while they proclaim they “do no evil”. Apple is no exception.

My take: “We are better than this.” — Rep. Elijah Cummings.

See also:


  1. Gregg Thurman said:
    Let me know when the craziness created by Crimea depiction on Apple maps is over. Until then I’m checking out.

    November 30, 2019
  2. Steven Noyes said:
    In 50 years, when Crimea is still “part” of Russia, are people still going to be crying over this?

    You can do business with one person and keep a single customer happy or you can do business with multiple people and keep many, but not all, happy.

    The past (and Crimea’s annexation is the past) is filled with the forceful taking of land by one people by another people. This is true now, 10 years ago, 100 years ago, 1,000 years ago and 10,000 years ago. It will be true 10 years from now and 1,000 years from now.

    Greg’s moral grand standing now is sickening. The fault lies in 2014 when the rest of the world states (the US led by Obama) sat and did nothing to stop Russia.

    Then was the time to act. Or act now and forcefully remove Russia.

    Or get over it now.

    November 30, 2019
  3. Greg Bates said:
    I didn’t say Apple should make a different choice. Rather, I bridle at companies cloaking their self-interest in higher ideals.

    Creating change is explicitly NOT the obligation of corporations, but of people and organizations pushing for justice. Despite Steven Noyes disliking my comment, he is right when he says, “The fault lies in 2014 when the rest of the world states (the US led by Obama) sat and did nothing to stop Russia.”

    Nonetheless, we can demand that companies be honest and call them on the carpet when they are not.

    Take a look again at the Cook Doctrine (embraced by many companies):

    “Each country in the world decides their laws and their regulations, and so your choice is: Do you participate? Or do you stand on the sideline and yell at how things should be? You get in the arena, because nothing ever changes from the sideline.”

    The assumption is that companies are agents for the good. Sometimes. But in this instance, his formulation is used to hide self interest behind the goal of making a positive difference. That same rationale of serving a higher good was used by companies to stay in Apartheid South Africa in the 1980s, defying a divestment campaign until the outcry was so loud that some were forced to leave.

    Companies are not moral agents, but they should be exposed when their claim to be moral is used to hide monetary gain.

    Rather than pretending they made a choice purely motivated, or even largely motivated by the common good, Apple could more honestly say, hey, we acted to advance our interests, as is the obligation of every public company.

    Regardless of whether it’s the right choice, that would be an honest statement I could appreciate.

    November 30, 2019
  4. Jerry W Doyle said:
    This is the same moral-hazard dilemma the United States faces as China seeks to take land from Japan, an American ally, in the adjacent East China Sea. It doesn’t stop there, though.

    For the past two decades China has moved aggressively and assertively to build up its military capacity while taking partially submerged islands belonging to Japan and rebuilding the islands’ land to secure strategic naval and air bases on them in the eventual goal of taking control of navigation through the South China Seas.

    The Philippines filed a request for arbitration before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Seas to discredit China’s “nine-dash-line.” This geographic area covers the seas used by Asian countries Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam. China wants control over all these seas.

    In summary, the South China Seas are a simmering cauldron as China is gearing up militarily to do what Russia did in Crimea. Then there is China’s claim over Taiwan.

    China is on a world economic and military dominance to claim all this area of Asia, and more. While Taiwan independence may well be a red line for China, freedom of navigation and overflight is America’s redline in that geographic area of Asia.

    To accomplish its military and economic dominance of these waters and land, China is using “coercive soft-power” on big business, captains of industries and other countries wanting access to China’s population. Many of Washington’s key elected officials are heavily dependent on massive campaign contributions from American multinational corporations having strong vested interest in the growing China trade. Just remember Stefan Harper’s three-warfare maxim; that it is not necessarily the best weapons that win today’s wars, but rather the best narrative.

    I am enjoying and admiring how Tim Cook is navigating these diplomatic waters. What Tim C did in Austin was superb diplomacy, no matter the modest outcry subsequently.

    While many American business academicians are studying Apple’s highly efficient supply chain and its operational logistics along with how Apple does business, it would be prudent for these erudites to also include as part of their business academic curriculums a section devoted to what I believe will be another Tim Cook legacy relative to company titans: domestic, foreign and international diplomatic business skills needed to do commerce in a global economy.

    November 30, 2019
  5. Alessandro Luethi said:
    How many words, how many opinions, how many realities…

    November 30, 2019
  6. Greg Bates said:
    I’m not here arguing the relative merits of engagement vs nonengagement, but that people should call upon corporations to own up to their self interest, and do some finger wagging when corporations piously claim that it’s purely or predominantly a moral choice.

    Of course, like people, corporations act for a variety of reasons, and which motivation becomes the top priority shifts according to the context. For example, when Apple is pushing the envelope on accessibility it’s motivated mostly by moral considerations, not some financial motive to sell gadgets to a huge market. Good for Apple, I say–even if one could argue that its advertising of accessibility aligns able-bodied customers with the company so they feel good about paying for the products. I just don’t think money is the motivator in this example.

    But when Apple redraws a map to suit a victorious superpower in an illegal annexation, to suggest the company is motivated solely by moral considerations (as its PR department implies) is problematic.

    November 30, 2019
  7. Greg Bates said:
    Joseph Bland–where does Apple claim it is “battling authoritarianism”? I don’t think it has ever said that, but it is likely fine with the idea of customers believing it–that’s why it couches things in PR language–and that’s why I object to it.

    Does engagement battle authoritarianism? That’s what Nixon thought would happen when he opened China in the early 1970s. We can look at that half century experiment (among many others) and see very clearly that prosperity has indeed transformed the country. But has engagement weakened authoritarianism in China? It’s a tough case to make.

    That’s why I think it best for corporations to be careful making moral proclamations. On the other hand, honest admission of self interest can be refreshing.

    November 30, 2019
  8. John Konopka said:
    This sort of thing goes on around the world. Very often corporations get caught in the cross fire.

    Where do you draw the line? At what point is it better to withdraw? Maybe if Apple refused to do as Russia asked iPhones would be banned in Russia. How bad would that be?

    Apparently, google maps shows Crimea as part of Russia. Not only that, the way google maps drew the border in the sea was used as justification for the recent attack on some Ukrainian ships.

    November 30, 2019
  9. Greg Bates said:
    Joseph–you raise an interesting question: “The problem is that nobody can definitively claim that it isn’t predominately a moral choice.” As long as the company never mentions its financial interests, that’s technically true. But when a policy of engagement meshes perfectly with its financial interests, when a company reaps some 80% plus of the profits of the industry from such policies, the case that altruism is the engine behind the policy, especially the sole engine as Apple would have us believe, isn’t credible.

    You argue “that there is an issue brewing that may be large enough to leave Russia over…” But the Cook doctrine has no lines in it to be crossed. One can read Cook as: Apple will do whatever it takes, obey any law or command to stay in a market. Again, I’m not saying it should have a different doctrine. Rather, when a company indicates it will stop at nothing to gain access to large markets (which meshes perfectly with every public company’s duty to its shareholders), we should not imagine that there are things it will refuse to do in order to preserve its integrity.

    For example, if Russia or China or the US passed laws that said Apple must open up its phones to surveillance (and we don’t know whether that has already happened in some countries), the Cook doctrine is clear: “You get in the arena…” Apple and others may want us to believe that there are issues “large enough” that would force them to leave, to use your phrase. But there’s zero evidence, in terms of access to markets, that that would ever happen, and the doctrine says Apple will stay.

    December 1, 2019
  10. Jim Fournier said:
    I wish that more articles/comments noted that the change is only shown on phones in Russia, where almost no one probably notices because all of the maps they see show the same thing.

    December 1, 2019

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