Apple has long worked to cultivate a reputation for respecting the privacy of its customers and users. To that end, it has often declared that it believes "privacy is a fundamental human right." In fact, that's how the new privacy page on Apple's website begins.

That page was posted yesterday and details how Apple handles your privacy. But even more than that, it serves as a direct shot at Apple's competitors, who have long held a very different view of your data. Apple's stance on privacy is a powerful statement in an industry that has amassed enormous fortunes by collecting and monetizing the personal information of its users.

Apple, on the other hand, has long given users far more control over securing their data, but now the site walks you through exactly how. 

For example, Apple details how it  handles location information. That feature of iOS 13 is one of the best indicators that Apple means what it says about protecting your privacy. Apple's newest mobile operating system gives you the ability to allow apps to track your location only while you're using them. And if an app continues to track your location, Apple will notify you and give you the chance to turn it off. 

Facebook, on the other hand, recently shared a blog post declaring that the company really needs to know your location all the time. And Google has long tracked your activity online, and the location of your devices.

In fairness, both have introduced the ability to control this to some extent, and Google now allows you to set your personal data to automatically delete every three or eight months. None of that changes the fact, however, that both companies are at their core, advertising platforms, which means their business models depend on your information in order to serve targeted ads. 

Here are a few of the examples of improved or clarified privacy Apple lays out on the new page:

  • Siri: Apple says it no longer reviews recorded snippets of voice interactions with Siri unless you explicitly opt-in. And when it does, it associates them with a random identifier so that your personal information isn't attached to any recordings.
  • Messages: Apple's iMessage service uses end-to-end encryption that even Apple can't break, which means that your private conversations are, well, private. In fairness, WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, also uses end-to-end encryption.
  • Safari: Unlike Chrome, which exists almost entirely as a platform for Google to show you ads, Safari is far more privacy conscious. The browser disables third-party tracking cookies by default, and protects users from most device fingerprinting. 
  • Maps: While Google just introduced an "Incognito Mode" for its Maps app, Apple's version goes even further. Since it isn't associated with your Apple ID, the app doesn't keep a history of where you've been. Features like remembering you parked your car are handled on the device, and don't send information to Apple.
  • Sign in with Apple: Probably the most significant difference is how Apple handles the ability to create an account with an app using the new "Sign in with Apple" feature, which allows you to log in without sharing your personal information. You can even choose to use a dummy email that forwards to your own. 

The new privacy page also includes Apple's Transparency Report, which details requests made by government agencies and when the company is sharing user information in response. Most of those requests relate to device identifiers or financial identifiers around fraudulent use of credit cards or payment cards.

Apple says it isn't able to decrypt user files and has even gone to great lengths to resist government requests to hand over user data, even in high profile cases like the San Bernardino mass shooting.

In reality, very little has changed about how Apple treats your personal information or protects your privacy. What has changed is how the company presents that information publicly, making it extremely clear. In fact, the page is in many ways a product page, explaining the core features of its improved approach to privacy. That's appropriate, considering Apple sees privacy as one of its core values.

That may be the starkest difference between Apple and Facebook or Google. Those companies have made head fakes in the direction of privacy, but the problem is, they're still headed towards a different goal.

Published on: Nov 7, 2019
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