Does it matter if Apple’s privacy position is selfish?

  • by Arlo Gilbert
  • · posted on January 19, 2023
  • · 4 min read
Does it matter if Apple’s privacy position is selfish?

Hello all! For our subscribers in the northern hemisphere, I hope you are all staying warm during these winter months.

One of the stories in this week’s Privacy Insider caught my eye—it’s a deep dive into Apple’s data collection practices. Apple has made privacy-consciousness part of its brand. It has, for instance, set strict privacy standards in the App Store and has even refused to unlock users’ devices for the FBI. But as the device manufacturer adds services and advertising to its offerings, it has inevitably become invested in the collection of user data.

If your business involves the sale of advertisements, then at least some collection of user data is unavoidable. However, there is a fine line to tread between strictly necessary data collection and excessive, invasive, and even dangerous levels of collection. Apple may struggle to tread that line given its history of being a privacy-first brand and its recent forays into digital services and advertising.

For example, researchers have determined that though Apple claims that iPhone usage data is anonymous, it can actually identify users’ names, email addresses, and phone numbers through iPhone analytics data. Researchers have also shown that Apple can view everything you tap on in the App Store. 

There have also been allegations that Apple’s pro-privacy stance is just another way for it to achieve its business goals. Apple has lobbied against right-to-repair bills on the basis that third-party repair shops could access user data and violate their privacy. (What else could explain a device manufacturer’s opposition to repairing old devices rather than buying new ones?) 

It has also faced anticompetition criticism over which apps it does and does not allow on the App Store, insisting that the App Store’s restrictions are there solely to protect user privacy. User privacy is important, but it’s also a convenient way to direct consumers to Apple products and services.

It’s always instructive to see what positions Big Tech companies take on privacy issues. These businesses’ technologies shape our economy, society, and way of life; many of them have an almost hostile attitude to data privacy, while others—like Apple—appear to embrace it. The question is: Can we all still benefit even if Big Tech’s pro-privacy position is a selfish one?

Best,

Arlo


 

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About The Author · Arlo Gilbert

Arlo Gilbert is the CEO & co-founder of Osano. An Austin, Texas native, he has been building software companies for more than 20 years in categories including telecom, payments, procurement, and compliance. In 2005 Arlo invented voice commerce, he has testified before congress on technology issues, and is a frequent speaker on data privacy rights.