Monday 25 June 2018

Apple makes privacy its USP

Apple CEO Tim Cook. Photo: Elijah Nouvelage
Apple CEO Tim Cook. Photo: Elijah Nouvelage
Steve Dempsey

Steve Dempsey

Apple held its Worldwide Developers Conference last Monday. It was pretty underwhelming stuff. No new hardware was unveiled. But you can make an animated emoji based on your own face; a screen time feature will allow parents to limit the amount of time their children spend hooked on their phones; the Apple news app is coming to desktop, and is getting a new browse tab and sidebar; and a new app called measure was announced - it uses AR to determine the size of items you point your camera at. The company has also teamed up with Disney's Pixar to develop a new file format for AR projects.

But from a media and marketing perspective, the most interesting element was Apple's evolving approach to privacy. If you're still reeling from GDPR, I suggest you stop reading now, but if you can stomach more column inches about personal data, read on.

Apple is doubling down on security and privacy. "We believe that your private data should remain private," said Craig Federighi, Apple's senior vice-president of Software Engineering. "Not because you've done something wrong, or you have something to hide. But because there can be a lot of sensitive data on your devices. And we think that you should be in control of who sees it."

MacOS already has API-level protection for location, contacts, photos, calendars and reminders. But it's adding camera and microphone, email database, and backups.

Apple limited retargeting last year - the ads that creepily follow you around the web. This year, it's going one step further, and will limit the amount of data Facebook, Google and other tech giants can collect from third-party websites."We've all seen these 'Like' buttons and share buttons and these comments fields," Federighi, said pointing at a screenshot of Facebook comments. "It turns out these can be used to track you whether you click on them or not. So this year, we're shutting that down." Now if an app tries to get information from people through these methods, it will trigger a popup where users can decide to keep their information private.

Apple will also make it harder for companies to engage in browser fingerprinting. This is where companies use the details about your device and browser settings to create a unique profile of that user.

"We're making it much harder for trackers to create unique fingerprint," Federighi said. "As a result, your Mac will look more like everyone else's Mac, and it will be dramatically more difficult for data companies to uniquely identify your device and track you."

After the event, Apple CEO Tim Cook told CNN that he viewed data privacy as a fundamental human right.

He didn't namecheck any companies abusing the right to privacy, add some emotive red, white and blue rhetoric, and roll out the 'will someone think of the children!' line. "Privacy, from an American point of view, is one of these key civil liberties that defines what it is to be an American," he said.

"I do think that we have to look at what has occurred and begin to make some substantive changes throughout the industry to protect people's privacy. I don't think at this point it's healthy to point a finger. I'm more focussed on how can we make the web an unbelievable place for not only ourselves but also the kids that are on it"

Apple's approach is smart as hell for two main reasons. Firstly, it's building software and notification systems that allow its customers to understand how their data is shared across the web. This is in line with the stated aim of both GDPR and the upcoming (and yet to be finalised) EU ePrivacy Directive, which will particularise and complement the GDPR. It's getting ahead of the curve of these upcoming issues, and positioning itself as the paragon in relation to legislative changes around privacy.

Secondly, trust is a great point of difference. While Facebook is engaged in a PR war over Cambridge Analytica and Google grapples with GDPR, Apple has steered clear of issues around privacy and security.

It's a brand that creates desirable hardware. And it wants consumers to know that this is desirable hardware that you can rely on to protect them - and their children.

"If we can convince you to buy an iPhone we'll make something," Tim Cook said in his CNN interview.

"We're not intent on building this mother of all profiles on you. It's not what we do. We don't think you want us to do that."

Bottom line: when you're flogging your top-of-the-range handsets for €1,179 to €1,349, you don't need to monetise your customers' data.

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