The Way You Ask The Questions Matters: Reuters Poll Says People Support Apple Against FBI, But It's All In The Questions

from the stupid-questions,-stupid-answers dept

Earlier this week, we highlighted a questionable poll done by the Pew Research folks concerning the Apple/FBI fight, and noted that the actual questions it asked were wrong and misleading (and also leading…) and that resulted in fairly meaningless results, which were then spun by reporters into false claims that the public backed the FBI in this fight:

And then, just days later, Reuters/Ipsos released a poll of its own, saying… basically the exact opposite, and it’s being spun to claim that there is “Solid support for Apple in iPhone encryption fight.”
And, once again, the poll is basically meaningless when it comes to the actual issues in this case. You can read the details of the questions in the linked document, which shows that, before asking the key question, the pollsters asked a bunch of questions about whether or not people were willing to “give up privacy” to help the US government on a variety of things. And lots of people said no. These questions more or less framed the issue as one about protecting your own privacy — as compared to the Pew poll that framed it more as being about investigating the San Bernardino attacks. Then after all those questions, the poll asks about the specifics of the Apple case, where they frame the question much more broadly than Pew’s. Here’s Reuters question:

Apple is opposing a court order to unlock a smart phone that was used by one of the shooters in the San Bernardino attack. Apple is concerned that if it helps the FBI this time, it will be forced to help the government in future cases that may not be linked to national security, opening the door for hackers and potential future data breaches for smartphone users. Do you agree or disagree with Apple?s decision to oppose the court order?

And, to refresh your memory, here’s how Pew asked it:

As you may know, RANDOMIZE: [the FBI has said that accessing the iPhone is an important part of their ongoing investigation into the San Bernardino attacks] while [Apple has said that unlocking the iPhone could compromise the security of other users? information] do you think Apple [READ; RANDOMIZE]?

(1) Should unlock the iPhone (2) Should not unlock the iPhone (3) Don’t Know.

Notice that the Reuters/Ipsos version focuses solely on the downsides laid out by Apple, and not the supposed intent of the FBI. The Pew poll tries to “balance” the two. Meanwhile both polls get the basic facts wrong, because the request is not to “unlock a smart phone” because Apple cannot “unlock it.” The actual ask is that it build a new operating system (which has some big challenges) that has purposely undermined two key security features on the iPhone, so that the FBI can then hack the passcode and access the phone. The specifics here matter and neither poll gets them right.

So while I, personally, think Apple is the one to support in this fight, I don’t think either poll really says much about anything, other than that depending on how you word a poll, you can get very, very different results. That’s really not particularly interesting as it pertains to the actual debate here. Stupid polls get stupid answers.

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Companies: apple, ipsos, pew research, reuters

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Comments on “The Way You Ask The Questions Matters: Reuters Poll Says People Support Apple Against FBI, But It's All In The Questions”

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TasMot (profile) says:

The only surprise here is that they still bother to actually ask the questions! I stopped answering phone polls once I realized that A) the poll was being done so that someone else can make money off of me and B) my answers really didn’t matter, they questions were asked in such a way to elicit the answers they wanted and get the their desired results.
Just like these two polls.

Synergy Waffle (profile) says:

“The FBI has in its possession an iPhone that was used by one of the San Bernardino shooters. Because the phone is protected by full-disk encryption, the FBI is currently unable to access the data contained therein. Consequently, the FBI is attempting to compel Apple (who does not currently have a way of accessing the data stored on the phone) to create a new operating system and apply it to this phone. This operating system would downgrade the security of the PIN-entry mechanism on the phone so that the FBI could then brute-force the PIN. Should the FBI be allowed to compel Apple to comply with this request?”

Fixed it?

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Zero-dollar budget on the War on Terror

I disagree

I bet if we spent zero on terrorism, and treated acts of terror as just nasty violent crimes (the way we regard domestic terror), and could agree as a society that terror is an elemental effect like natural disasters, and we should just prepare to suffer terror once in a while…

…that not only would we relax better as a society but the terror effort from the Islamic State would dry up inside a couple of years.

They do it because we are terrorized. They do it because we throw massive amounts of money and resources to fighting it. They do it because our reactions give them recognition as a legitimate enemy.

They do it because it makes spectacular news in which they are down- and center-stage.

Socrates says:

Re: Re: Zero-dollar budget on the War on Terror


And this applies to the FBI too (and the rest of the security theater). FBI even make fake terrorists regularly. IS and FBI share an interest in a scared US population.

IMHO, it should be enough crime to keep FBI occupied without these scams. There is hundreds of thousands of rape kits laying waiting to be analyzed in the US.

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