Samsung may agree with Apple and its stance on data privacy, but that doesn’t mean it’ll publicly support its archrival.
In an emailed statement to Bloomberg, Samsung called protecting its customers’ privacy “extremely important,” adding that it has safeguards in place that stop law enforcement from obtaining user data. It stopped short, however, of publicly referring to Apple’s case with the FBI and saying that it would actually support the company in its ongoing court case over encryption.
“We have not decided whether to file an amicus brief in the current case,” Samsung told Bloomberg in a statement, referring to a filing that a third party could provide to the court in support of the defendant.
Samsung’s statement of support for customer privacy, but not overt support for Apple, is illustrative of the companies’ contentious relationship. Apple (AAPL) and Samsung (SSNLF) have for the last several years gone toe-to-toe in patent disputes around the world. The companies argue that the other violates patents they own and have sought damage and injunctions against allegedly infringing devices. So far, Apple has come out on top, though its initial $1 billion damages victory in 2012 has since been whittled down to $548 million. Samsung plans to take its case to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that Apple’s patents are invalid.
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Meanwhile, in a separate case in the U.S. (the companies in 2014 called a truce in international legal disputes), Samsung successfully overturned an earlier ruling that would have cost the company $120 million. In a ruling last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled that Samsung will not be required to pay the sum over alleged patent infringement. The court said that Apple, which has charged Samsung with “slavishly” copying its products, holds patents that are invalid and thus cannot be used in litigation against Samsung.
While the court battles have continued, Apple and Samsung have been waging war over which company would ultimately become the world’s top smartphone maker. For now, Samsung is the leader, shipping nearly 325 million smartphones worldwide last year, according to research firm IDC. However, Apple, which sells fewer models, is hot on its heels with 231.5 million smartphone units, growing its shipments by 20.2% year-over-year. Samsung could only muster 2.1% growth. That minimal growth caused Samsung’s worldwide market share to slip from 24.4% in 2014 to 22.7% in 2015, and for the company to again say it needs to adapt its strategy to head off any competition from Apple or China-based Huawei.
In an effort to achieve that goal, Samsung last month announced new flagship handsets, the Galaxy S7 and the Galaxy S7 Edge. Both devices are aimed squarely at Apple’s iPhone 6s line. But whether they’ll be enough to boost Samsung’s shipments and even hurt the iPhone, which is also expected to get an upgrade later this year, remains to be seen.
Given Apple and Samsung’s longstanding tension, it’s perhaps no surprise that Samsung has not said whether it would publicly support Apple in its fight with the FBI. That said, Apple has had a similarly destructive relationship with Microsoft over the years. Indeed, one could argue that the war between Microsoft and Apple, in which both companies poked fun at each other in ads and top executives lashed out at each other for decades, was even more vicious than Apple’s spat with Samsung.
Unlike Samsung, however, Microsoft (MSFT) has said that it will file an amicus brief with the court to support Apple’s stance not to help the FBI unlock the iPhone owned by San Bernardino attacker Syed Farook. Other prominent technology companies, including Google (GOOGL), also are expected to submit friend of the court briefs Thursday in support of Apple, which contends that helping the FBI would violate its First Amendment rights and hurt the privacy of all people.
For now, though, Samsung can’t quite bring itself to support Apple to that degree. Instead, in its statement to Bloomberg, the company could only say that it agrees that protecting customer data is important, and that its own customers shouldn’t worry about a backdoor that would allow law-enforcement officials to access their data.
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“Ensuring trust in our products and services is our top priority,” the company said in its statement to Bloomberg. “Our phones are embedded with encryption that protects privacy and content, and they do not have backdoors. When required to do so, and within the law, we work with law enforcement agencies. However, any requirement to create a backdoor could undermine consumers’ trust.”
Samsung did not immediately respond to a request for comment.