It’s no secret that Apple is one of the better corporate citizens out there when it comes to protecting user privacy — the company has been promoting this fact for years as an advantage over rivals such as Google whose businesses are based almost entirely on user data. Apple, by comparison, wants to make it clear that it’s interested only in selling you hardware — not selling your data — and it’s going to even greater lengths to ensure that anybody who cares about online privacy should be using an iPhone.
While reasonable people can disagree on exactly how much it matters that companies like Google and Facebook are collecting data on you and exactly how they’re using it — individually or in the aggregate — it’s hard to argue that collecting NO data is far better for privacy, and Apple is striving to collect no more data than it needs to, that what passes through its servers for the benefit of its users is securely end-to-end encrypted, and that whatever it does collect is stored as anonymously as possible.
While Apple has had its recent missteps in this area, it’s been fairly quick to correct them, and in some cases even these reports have been overblown in terms of how much identifiable data Apple was actually collecting. Still, at a time when many users have become downright cynical about big tech companies and privacy, Apple knows it needs to do better at getting its message out, and this year it’s revamped its privacy pages for the iOS 13 era to actually share very specific and detailed examples of what it’s doing to protect user privacy.
Not Just Broad Strokes Anymore
Apple has had a privacy page for a few years now, but in most cases the information the company provided was scant on specific details about what Apple does to protect privacy, preferring to just speak in overall general terms about its policies and how it protects your privacy. Although there have been plenty of white papers and technical documents published, these were harder to find and usually not written with the less technical reader in mind.
This year, however, Apple is getting down to brass tacks and sharing some very specific examples to help the average user understand what it’s doing to address common privacy concerns in the apps you use each and every day.
For example, Apple highlights Safari, the core browser that’s used by pretty much every iPhone and iPad user and many Mac users, explaining how Intelligent Tracking Prevention works to keep websites and advertisers from identifying you and following your activity around the web, and does it without requiring the user to manage a bunch of complicated settings. Apple also points out that it offers DuckDuckGo as an optional search engine for users who want the ultimate in search privacy, although of course users will have to select it specially, as Google is still paying Apple far too much money for it to give up its place as the default search engine on iOS devices.
Apple also points out that the Apple Maps application, in stark contrast to its biggest competitor, Google Maps, keeps location history completely anonymous. As Apple notes, since you can’t even sign into Apple Maps, where you go isn’t associated with your Apple ID at all, and personalized location data is stored only on your device while the data that Apple does need to collect in order to improve navigation is collected anonymously and stored using random identifiers that are constantly changing and “location fuzzing” that make it impossible for Apple to even create a profile by correlation (e.g. by creating collections of all of the places a single anonymous user searches for, or where you’re searching from). The data that does need to sync across devices, like the new iOS 13 Collections, uses end-to-end encryption so that Apple itself can’t see any of it.
The page goes on to explain how Apple’s Photos app performs all of its machine learning right on the iPhone’s own A-series chip, with the A13 able to perform over 100 billion operations on each photo, allowing it to create memories and identify objects and faces without the need to send your photos to cloud-based server farms for analysis. End-to-end encryption in Messages is also covered, along with how Apple now handles Siri requests — associating any data it does collect with a random identifier, which it has always done, but also highlighting that users can now opt-out of sharing their voice entirely.
Apple also points out that it doesn’t track what you read in Apple News, it doesn’t track what you buy with Apple Pay, and that information in the Health app is very privately and securely stored, and that its new Sign in with Apple feature in iOS 13 helps you securely and quickly sign into apps and websites while sharing as little information as possible.
For users who want to take a deeper dive, there’s an even more detailed Privacy Features page, which also includes links to a series of white papers and tech briefs for those who want get into all of the gory technical details, from Safari to HomeKit.