Ever since Edward Snowden reminded humanity that its data isn’t exactly secure, folks have been concerned about digital privacy. One such person happens to be pretty important in the tech world, and this week, Apple CEO Tim Cook became the face of safeguarding user data.

Apple CEO Tim Cook. Photo courtesy Apple

Apple CEO Tim Cook. Photo courtesy Apple

Here’s the rub (Wired has the best nuts-and-bolts explainer): The FBI asked Apple to design software that would let them hack into the iPhone of a gunman in the San Bernardino mass shooting, Apple said no, a federal court said yes, and now Apple’s arguing.

Apple’s on center stage in this argument, and it will be compelling to see how Apple’s public image will be affected. Right now, it seems more people are applauding Tim Cook’s fight for privacy than criticizing his impeding a federal investigation of a terrifying event.

But something’s missing from this latest privacy discussion: What does Microsoft think?

Microsoft, Facebook, Google, and Amazon store a lot of our data, and most people expect them to protect it from intrusion. When the U.S. government wanted access to data stored in Microsoft’s data center in Ireland, industry brethren spoke out against government overreach. But this time around, in a far more domestic and polarized case, most tech companies are letting Cook do all the talking.

It’s possible all this will blow over, in which case Microsoft and others are doing a smart thing by offering a tepid response. But if Apple solidifies itself as a privacy-centered organization willing to fight the government for the rights of its customers, that could make Microsoft and others look softer on privacy, if only by association.


Microsoft and universal design

I remember the first time I visited Portland, I was shocked by how easy everything was. The city center (and, importantly, the nearby green space) is navigable by bus, rail, or foot. There are restaurants, shops, and cafes everywhere. Drinking fountains are at many intersections. There are places to sit everywhere (my favorite novelty seat was positioned atop a road barricade). After that weekend, all I could think was, this would be a great place for my grandmother to live.

Urban planners say a city that’s good for kids and senior citizens is good for everyone: If a 10-year-old can safely bike downtown, if an 80-year-old can walk to a nearby cafe, then you’ve got a city that is also inherently better for perfectly healthy 40-year-olds.

This process of designing things for everyone is called universal design, and, in what might be the best story you read this year about Microsoft, Fast Company explains how the concept is shaping products that emerge from Redmond.

The story focuses on designers Kat Holmes and August de los Reyes, whose philosophy changed after he was paralyzed in 2013. The duo is leading a movement at Microsoft to design products with the disabled in mind. This means rethinking how Cortana reacts when the algorithms are confused, and making text easier to read for those with dyslexia.

De los Reyes’ metaphor of choice is the sidewalk ramp — designed to let wheelchairs roll over curbs at intersections, they make walking easier for everyone. If all goes to plan, we’ll see Microsoft’s applications become easier to use for the same reason.


Elsewhere on the Web

Should Seattle sell its bike-share system to the Eastside?

John Legere isn’t afraid to shoot the messenger.

The education industry is turning to Chromebooks instead of PCs or iPads, in large part because of ingenious, affordable hacks like this one.

Boy, all these delivery services leave behind a lot of cardboard.

In our upcoming issue (go buy it!), we discuss how companies promote employee healthiness, but a study shows companies might be better off punishing unhealthiness.

If you need a reason to waste 30 minutes, here you go.