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Closed ranks: Lack of open access to FaceTime and iMessage is good for users

Marco Tabini | April 23, 2014
In June of 2010, shortly after announcing the launch of FaceTime's beta program, Apple's then-CEO Steve Jobs stated that the company's engineers had built the technology entirely on well-known standards, and that the company was prepared to open up the service so that users of competing mobile platforms would be able to take advantage of it.

Robocalling and telemarketing have always been a problem, but phone service on a large scale used to be expensive enough to make outright fraud hard to justify from a return-on-investment perspective. When phone calls cost fractions of a penny, however, you only have to convince a small number of victims that they have won the lottery or are about to receive a large inheritance from a recently-deceased Nigerian prince in order to turn a profit.

This has never been a problem with either iMessage or FaceTime, since there is essentially no way to use either unless you use them through an approved device. Although figuring out a way to contact me can't be too hard — my e-mail address is, after all, quite easy to find — I've never had to deal with so much as a single unwanted iMessage, which has made Apple's services surprisingly efficient in the signal-to-noise department.

Safe haven

Finally, one of my favorite features of both services is the complete lack of a public or social layer. For example, neither FaceTime nor iMessage provide any kind of directory through which it's possible to look up a user's contact information. iMessage has no social-media features: There is no public timeline to which users can post timely details about their lives, and no way to "friend" other people (other than adding them as a contact, of course). 

In my eyes, this makes both services great communication media for young people who haven't quite yet had an opportunity to understand and appreciate the value of their privacy. As it turns out, most of my kids' friends count an iPad among their family possessions, and both FaceTime and iMessage make great ways for them to keep in touch, at least once you've explained to them what constitutes an "acceptable usage policy" of their video- and photo-sharing capabilities.

Compared with pure social-media plays like Facebook, whose focus on advertising translates into an environment that tries in every way possible to convince users that their privacy is worthless, Apple's approach allows children to enjoy the benefit of modern communications without giving up the kind of control over their public life that they have a right to preserve until they can appreciate its value.

The right decision?

It doesn't take a lot of effort to see the downsides of Apple's refusal to open up its communication platforms. If it so happens that your best friend is an Android fan, iMessage and FaceTime aren't going to do you a lot of good, and, while there are plenty of alternatives, the fragmentation that they bring about makes keeping on top of your communications much less convenient.


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