Apple Privacy May Not Be As Private As You Think

Author

Theo Priestley, Contributor

August 27, 2015

At the Apple WWDC event this year Tim Cook made an absolute statement about user privacy and Apple’s stance. It was meant to draw a definite line in the sand to distinguish Apple from its main rival, Google, in how it applies privacy and control to consumer data.

Tim Cook published a strong message following the event on the Apple website itself, stating that at Apple, “we believe a great customer experience shouldn’t come at the expense of your privacy.” 

We don’t build a profile based on your email content or web browsing habits to sell to advertisers. We don’t “monetize” the information you store on your iPhone or in iCloud. And we don’t read your email or your messages to get information to market to you. Our software and services are designed to make our devices better. Plain and simple.

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iAd sticks to the same privacy policy that applies to every other Apple product. It doesn’t get data from Health and HomeKit, Maps, Siri, iMessage, your call history, or any iCloud service like Contacts or Mail, and you can always just opt out altogether.

It’s clear that Apple doesn’t want to get to know you to sell your data to third parties, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t want to get to know you for their own purposes.

Take Proactive for example, the flagship AI assistant that’s a step ahead of Siri and a direct aim at Google Now. In order to be as effective as possible, Proactive starts to understand your habits and as the tool learns it will offer you new ways to do things. Eventually third-party apps will also offer Proactive tools as developers  build support for the deep linking feature into their software. For example;

  • By calling a friend at a regular time on a regular basis, Proactive will begin placing the friend’s icon in your search screen at around the time it thinks you might make that call.
  • Proactive will scan a call from unknown number to see if it is contained within an email you have received, and then let you know who might be calling.
  • If a call comes from an unknown number that isn’t included in any email, Proactive will tell you the district where that number originates if it’s a landline.
  • When you connect your iPhone to your vehicle, Proactive will ask if you want to continue listening to the track or album you were listening to last time you drove.

The last is particularly interesting given Apple’s apparent play with connected cars, the rumours around a deeper relationship with BMW and the number of recent exec hires with automotive backgrounds.

As the power of the tool grows, it will also share other pieces of contextual information to you gathered from other apps and sources, all it needs to do is learn more about you.

When we do ask to use your data, it’s to provide you with a better user experience.

Apple wants you to think your private life is private, and it’s clever in how it executes this strategy. For example, all data is processed on the device, not on an Apple server somewhere. But in order to improve its services, especially advanced features like Siri and Proactive, it needs this information fed back to Infinite Loop. Whilst consumer data is anonymised, and not associated with an Apple ID when it’s sent, this doesn’t mean nothing happens at HQ once its left the device. How else can Apple provide its consumers with a top end experience with no feedback loop on real world usage ?

For Apple, all this personalisation is apparently anonymous, and sits on a user’s iPhone, iPad, Mac or Apple Watch. But how can real personalization  be derived from information that doesn’t identify you? And if third-parties are to develop deep linking to Proactive, how can they secure your privacy against another party using it ?

For instance, if it were possible for Google Photos to figure out that I have a Tesla, and Tesla wanted to alert me to a recall, that would be a service that we would consider offering, with appropriate controls and disclosure to the user. – Bradley Horowitz, Vice President, Google

Apple has limited true personalization for the sake of apparent privacy and control in-situ, and unlike Google’s open strategy of admitting what it’s likely to do with your data for a supposed greater good, Apple’s play is still very much self-serving for the sake of looking consumer friendly.

Apple cannot deliver a truly personalised experience if it doesn’t know it is you using the device. If you share iDevices Apple will have to understand every user’s habits, otherwise the experience delivered from advanced features will be wrong. And the only way to do this is identify who is using the product and why.

Even Spotify, when updating its terms and conditions, recently faced a backlash when openly stating it will use the info you share via the platform to tailor the experience. Whilst it was poorly communicated, the terms were clarified by CEO Daniel Ek;

Let me be crystal clear here: If you don’t want to share this kind of information, you don’t have to.

We will ask for your express permission before accessing any of this data – and we will only use it for specific purposes that will allow you to customize your Spotify experience.

What this eludes to is an understanding from the public about what their data is used for, and how it is accessed, and the real purpose behind accessing it. The negative response to Spotify’s update in privacy terms shows that this is a growing movement. Infinite Loop likely rubbed its  hands together with glee over the knee-jerk reaction is to defect to Apple Music. Tim Cook and Apple know this, and they are hiding behind smoke and mirrors in their stance to protect your information for the sake of positive image.

Ultimately, over time, this device-based strategy will prove Apple’s undoing as it eventually admits it does need your personal data. It has accessed your personal data. And has done all along.

Read how 2016 could be the year we reclaim our privacy here on Forbes.

This article was written by Theo Priestley from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.


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