A paragraph in a 9to5Mac story on Friday
caught my eye, as it highlighted one of the worst problems with PR in the tech industry.
“We understand Apple’s view is that the app doesn’t defeat sandboxing, since the intention is to ensure users are in control of what apps can and can’t do, and it is users who granted permission. That said, macOS Mojave does increase sandboxing protections, so that even if a user grants permission for total access, it will still protect sensitive information like Safari history and cookies.”
Where did this information come from? If you’ve not dealt with tech company PR departments, you might think the journalist in question got the information from a source within Apple, speaking secretly. After all, surely if they’d got it from Apple’s PR department, it would be in the form of an official quote, right?
But no - this information will almost certainly have been given to 9to5Mac by Apple PR ‘on background.’ Apple will have said “We’ve got nothing to say officially, but on background…” and then given the information in that quote above in almost identical wording to what 9to5Mac published.
Why do they do this? By shying away from giving an exact quote, Apple is absolving itself of any embarrassment (and repercussions in the press and on the stock market) if it turns out its approach to the issue at hand was wrong. It would just look like 9to5Mac made a mistake in its reporting.
And given that Apple rarely makes any comment at all on press stories, journalists are just happy to have got information 'on background.’
This isn’t unique to Apple and 9to5Mac, it’s rife throughout the tech industry and the tech press. It confuses readers about who is exactly saying what, and why. The only reason PR people in tech do it is because they can get away with it – some information is better than none for reporters, after all.
And if it also makes a reporter look like they did some deeper reporting than they did (when in some cases they don’t have the time, resources or experience to do this) then that’s an added bonus.
Only a handful of publications have the clout to be able to insist on getting on-the-record quotes in place of 'on background’ information (mainly some of the big US newspapers), but at least if you know to look for these 'our understanding is…’ sentences, followed by something that sounds very much like it came from a PR department, you can understand a bit more about what might really be going on.