Apple's Own Internal Malware: Blinders to Criticism

Last Updated May 20, 2011 3:24 PM EDT

In a current Apple (AAPL) Mac malware scam, a fake antivirus program tries to scare people into paying to rid their machines of a virus. But the business problem is not whether Macs can get infected with malware -- any computer can. Instead, Apple addressed the issue in its typical form: ignore something inconvenient until it goes away -- or until the problem is so large it can't be swept under the carpet anymore.

Although Apple internally accepts the existence of mistakes so it can correct them, the company is intolerant of public gaffes. Occasionally, sure, Steve Jobs blows a gasket, and the stories sometimes leak out. More often, though, Apple says nothing and even sometimes goes out of its way to bury any public discussion of issues with its products.

That may have worked when customers were devoted fans willing to forgive anything. But as the company expands rapidly beyond its traditional base, Apple's don't-tell-us-we'll-tell-you attitude toward bugs, product flaws and other issues is likely cutting its potential sales and promoting Google (GOOG) Android, its main market rival for a hardware-software-content ecosystem.

Malware? What malware?
The current malware attack and Apple's say-nothing response have received significant attention in the press, even as the Mac faithful gather to dismiss criticism:

For an operating system vendor to refuse to repair a malware problem is common. Whether Apple or Microsoft (MSFT), they will point customers to antivirus software companies. However, Apple goes well beyond that and has told even its in-store support people not to even acknowledge the existence of malware they see on someone's computer. That's letting customers dangle because you don't want to admit that your product has never been invulnerable.

Our fingers are in our ears and we can't hear you
Apple has long played up the notion of the Mac's invulnerability. Even if you think that blame lies with rabid Apple fans, the company has done nothing to discourage the view. And now it employs the the classic Jobs Patented Reality Distortion Field response: Redefine the world as you want it.

Sometimes Apple ignores what it's "supposed" to do with great effectiveness: look at the Apple Stores and the iPad. But too often, the company has tried to ignore and even cover up its errors:

    When pushed to the wall with no escape, Apple takes action. However, it clearly prefers to keep mum and do nothing to avoid tarnishing its image. That worked when its audience was largely adoring fans. It doesn't do so quite as well now that the company has broadened its customer base to, well, virtually anyone.

    You could argue that it doesn't really matter, since Apple keeps growing anyway. Yet Android has already blown past the iPhone in market share. And even though Apple loyalists dismiss the chance of Google catching up in the tablet world, that's exactly what they used to say about Android's chances in smartphones.

    Has Android pulled ahead because it's that much better or cheaper than Apple's products? Clearly not. But Apple has increasingly put its foot into heaping piles of crud. Consumers are unforgiving, and the shift we see in the market is at least in part a result.
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      Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.