Apple Increases Privacy to Attack Google and Microsoft

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

In an era of widespread data collection, targeted advertising, and device tracking, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) is taking a stand to offer iOS users better privacy — and gain a competitive edge by trading on the difference between its policies and those of Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL), Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), and even Facebook (NASDAQ:FB).

MacWorld‘s Rich Mogull examined Apple’s privacy policy and found a key difference between Apple’s privacy policy and the policies of other companies like Google or Facebook: it actually prioritizes the security of users’ information over the utility of that information for advertising. A line in Apple’s official privacy policy reads:

Personal information will only be shared by Apple to provide or improve our products, services and advertising; it will not be shared with third parties for their marketing purposes.

That’s a strong hint that Apple is forgoing attracting advertisers in order to attract more customers. Mogull then looked to announcements made at Apple’s recent Worldwide Developers Conference to figure out exactly how the company views user privacy. Looking beyond the most celebrated privacy related announcement — that iO S8 will randomize MAC addresses to limit the tracking of Apple devices — he looks at the details on how Apple has set iOS up over the past few years.

He enumerates the variety of features and options that the company has put in place both to ensure users’ privacy and to give them control over their data: “iOS extensions were designed to prevent them from being able to circumvent a user’s privacy settings. No keyboards sniffing keystrokes and sending them off to the Internet (as has happened on Android.) Both HealthKit and HomeKit are designed so users control their own data, and must explicitly allow it to be shared with outsiders. With Touch ID, not only does your fingerprint never leave the device, but apps can never see anything stored in the Secure Enclave. The privacy-minded DuckDuckGo search engine will be a default option, right next to Bing and Google.”

iOS and OSX get user permission before sharing data with Apple, and enable users to control specifically which applications have access to which data. Apple minimizes the amount of user data that it needs to collect, and often anonymizes the data. iOS app data is encrypted with the user’s passcode and a hardware key that Apple can’t recover. Systems aren’t set up to support government snooping. Apple encrypts messages and FaceTime calls, and randomizes the Wi-Fi or MAC address of iOS devices to limit the tracking of devices for advertising purposes, as reported by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Advertisers began tracking the permanently assigned Wi-Fi address in the first place because of Apple’s earlier decision to disallow cookies in its Safari web browser, according to Fortune.

Mogull writes that, “With every iteration of OS X, iOS, and iCloud, we see Apple add increasing the privacy protections it provides its users. It has consistently enabled customers to protect their personal information from advertisers, governments, third-party developers, and even Apple itself.”

But rather than focusing on privacy out of altruism — which Mogull points out rarely exists at the corporate level – Apple sees a “competitive advantage” in paying careful attention to user privacy. The company’s focus on the security of customer data can differentiate it from competitors like Google and Microsoft. Letting users know that Apple products offer a higher level of privacy and control over their data will undoubtedly play an increasing role in Apple’s marketing strategy to influence which phones, tablets, and computers consumers buy.

As Mogull points outs, Apple’s robust privacy measures run counter to the way that Google, Microsoft, and perhaps most notoriously, Facebook, run its businesses. Google and Facebook both collect and store massive amounts of user data, without much recourse for users. Google scans email and Facebook scans messages in order to feed its advertising businesses. Microsoft allows administrators to control phones and computers because it prioritizes the needs of the enterprise customer over the average consumer. iOS’ main competitor, Google’s Android, runs on so many different devices that Google can’t implement consistent measures to keep user data secure. Apple’s business model doesn’t depend on advertisers or enterprise customers, and that gives it a prime opportunity to show users that it’s ahead and can attack Google and Microsoft on privacy.

Apple doesn’t rely on advertising for revenue, building its business instead on hardware and digital media, so it can afford to care considerably less than its competitors about whether its platforms are lucrative for advertisers. By keeping out of the advertising business, Apple is free to prioritize user privacy, which it will use as a selling point for security minded consumers, hoping to pull market share from Google and Microsoft.

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