Trans­parency gives Apple higher grade on pri­vacy

USA TODAY US Edition - - MONEY - Jef­fer­son Graham

Is Apple the shin­ing knight when it comes to pri­vacy col­lec­tion, as it wants us to be­lieve?

A dif­fer­ent busi­ness model than Face­book and Google gives it some ground to claim a tighter fortress around your data. But that’s not the whole story, and some changes are com­ing.

In the wake of the dis­clo­sure that nearly 90 mil­lion Face­book users’ in­for­ma­tion were passed on to po­lit­i­cal ad tar­get­ing firm Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica with­out their con­sent, tech com­pa­nies are on the de­fen­sive.

Con­sumers and law­mak­ers want to know how much their fa­vorite apps have col­lected of their choices and move­ments and what they do with this per­sonal in­for­ma­tion.

Apple has made a point of try­ing to dif­fer­en­ti­ate its approach to con­sumers’ in­for­ma­tion. On its web­site, it notes that it col­lects less data about us than the other big tech com­pa­nies and then bumps up the se­cu­rity by scram­bling it so it doesn’t iden­tify who it comes from. Ad­di­tion­ally, it says it keeps most of the data on our de­vices, as op­posed to Apple servers, and it’s en­crypted on those de­vices and only ac­ces­si­ble via your pass­code.

And it says it will make it eas­ier to track the in­for­ma­tion the com­pany col­lects about us, and to down­load or delete it, later this year. Cur­rently, get­ting the data back from Apple is cum­ber­some and slow.

The new tools are to com­ply with new pri­vacy rules, called Gen­eral Data Pro­tec­tion Reg­u­la­tion (GDPR), that go into ef­fect in the Euro­pean Union in late May. In a nut­shell, the rules look to give the user more con­trols over how their data is used.

Ma­jor tech com­pa­nies are all beef­ing up their pri­vacy stance to deal with these new rules and con­sumer blowout over the Face­book data scan­dal.

Apple’s approach

So how is Apple dif­fer­ent? The iPhone and Macbook maker can make some claims to pri­vacy that stem from a hard­ware-, not ad­ver­tis­ing-, based busi­ness model. It sells prod­ucts to us, pri­mar­ily hard­ware such as phones, com­put­ers, watches and tablets.

Re­mem­ber that with Face­book and Google, we are the en­gines that en­able the com­pa­nies to sell ad­ver­tis­ing. When we like a post, check in to a restau­rant, ask for directions to a busi­ness or search for a ho­tel to visit, Face­book and Google learn more about us, and cou­pled with our de­mo­graphic and lo­ca­tion in­for­ma­tion, can help ad­ver­tis­ers to reach us — mak­ing the two com­pa­nies the jug­ger­nauts of dig­i­tal ad­ver­tis­ing.

Apple in­sists it “doesn’t gather your per­sonal in­for­ma­tion to sell to ad­ver­tis­ers or other or­ga­ni­za­tions.” Such a state­ment only goes so far — Face­book CEO Mark Zucker­berg makes a point of say­ing Face­book doesn’t sell users’ data to ad­ver­tis­ers, ei­ther. What the so­cial net­work sells is ad­ver­tis­ers’ ac­cess to users, who brands can tar­get with all the in­for­ma­tion it has gleaned from their ac­tiv­ity.

As for Apple, our al­ways-on iPhones gather up a lot of in­for­ma­tion, too. When we turn on our phones, the GPS knows where we are, what we do and where we go. When we ask Siri for directions or a recipe, Apple takes note. But Apple says it doesn’t share that info with out­side com­pa­nies. It does, how­ever, al­low ad­ver­tis­ers to tar­get users based on their his­tory in the App Store and News app.

The iPhone maker tries to dif­fer­en­ti­ate it­self fur­ther. Un­like Face­book and Google, Apple says it scram­bles this in­for­ma­tion and looks at pat­terns of us­age, not at who it’s com­ing from.

Apple says that once scram­bled, it com­bines it with the data of mil­lions of oth­ers. “So we see gen­eral pat­terns, rather than specifics that could be traced back to you. These pat­terns help us iden­tify things like the most pop­u­lar emoji, the best Quick­Type sug­ges­tions and en­ergy con­sump­tion rates in Sa­fari,” the com­pany says.

The com­pany does ad­mit that it freely col­lects in­for­ma­tion about what mu­sic we lis­ten to, what movies, books and apps we down­load, which is “ag­gre­gated” and used to help Apple make rec­om­men­da­tions. Apple says it doesn’t share this in­for­ma­tion with out­side com­pa­nies, ei­ther.

If you want to see your data ...

As we dis­cov­ered when we downloaded our data di­rectly back from Face­book and Google, the so­cial net­work had made copies of ev­ery photo I’d ever posted and held onto phone num­bers, ad­dresses and names of my friends. Google had kept copies of ev­ery search made, in­clud­ing ones con­ducted in “Incog­nito” mode, which is ad­ver­tised as pri­vate search­ing.

What Apple won’t do, at least for now, is make it easy for you to get your data so you can check out what ex­actly Apple has held onto. Face­book and Google of­fer this ser­vice, through a down­load re­quest that can take a few hours to gen­er­ate. Then you get an email link to down­load it your­self and get shocked at just how much the so­cial net­work and search giant has held onto.

Apple hides the data re­quest deep in­side the pri­vacy sec­tion of the web­site. To get there, it’s four clicks from the main page and buried in the 11th sub­head on the page.

(I put in the data re­quest Mon­day just af­ter 11 a.m. Some 22 hours later Tues­day, we heard back from Apple, say­ing we could get the re­port once we replied with our full name, Apple ID, email ad­dress, street ad­dress, phone num­ber and se­rial num­ber of an Apple prod­uct.)

Gee, and with Face­book and Google, all we had to do was click a but­ton, and we got the data re­port sent, no ques­tions asked. Look for a fol­low-up here soon with what I find in the down­load.

You can also call Apple Care at 1-800692-7753 to re­quest that Apple deletes your data, if that’s your choice.

Apple says it will stream­line the process to make it more user-friendly, mak­ing it eas­ier to get a copy of your data and tools to de­ac­ti­vate and/or delete your ac­count beginning in May in Europe. It will roll out the more con­sumer friendly pri­vacy page in the U.S. later this year.

Apple does sell ads

Mean­while, Apple also does sell ads as well, on a far smaller scale. These ap­pear in the News app and App Store, based on your in­ter­ests. By de­fault, on the iPhone you’ve al­lowed Apple to serve you ads based on what it thinks are your in­ter­ests.

“To en­sure ads are rel­e­vant, Apple’s ad­ver­tis­ing plat­form creates groups of peo­ple, called seg­ments, who share sim­i­lar char­ac­ter­is­tics and uses these groups for de­liv­er­ing tar­geted ads,” the pol­icy reads.

Want to stop Apple from do­ing this? Go to the settings sec­tion on the iPhone, click Pri­vacy, and click ad­ver­tis­ing at the way bot­tom. Click the LIMIT AD TRACK­ING tab. You’ll also need to click AD IN­FOR­MA­TION to opt out of ad tar­get­ing in the Apple News app and the App Store.

Apple has made a point of dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing its approach to users’ in­for­ma­tion.


Our al­ways-on iPhones gather up a lot of in­for­ma­tion.

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