Data minimization. That was the key message underlying Apple’s new privacy push during Monday’s Worldwide Developers Conference, which unveiled a slew of new services, features and updates in Apple’s forth coming iOS 9 operating system.
Amidst new music, news-feed and updated mobile pay services, Apple made sure that the market knows it is taking privacy seriously. To keep up with new intelligent features recently unveiled by Google, Apple, too, will offer intelligent services—such as a “proactive” Siri and smarter Spotlight search—but the differentiator that Apple put forward is that all that personalized data will be stored locally on the device and not on the cloud or sold to third parties.
“All of this is on device, and stays on device under your control,” said Apple Senior Vice President of Software Engineering Craig Federighi, during Monday’s event. “If we do look up something on your behalf, such as traffic, it’s anonymous,” he said, adding, “You are in control.”
In addition to announcing its new operating system, El Capitan, Apple said its smart-search assistant Siri will add context to user commands. Say a user plugs in headphones for a morning workout, the iOS will remember the user’s exercise schedule and queue up appropriate music.
Apple also unveiled a news service, but noted it will not collect user reading habits. Federighi said the new service is “designed from the ground up with your privacy in mind.”
Security industry analyst Rich Mogull, who follows Apple closely, said data minimization has increasingly become “part of (Apple’s) design process” and internal processes. “It’s a competitive advantage,” he said. “As privacy becomes something people care about," you should look for it to be increasingly part of their product design and marketing. And because revenue for Apple is primarily generated from hardware and not third-party advertising, Mogull noted, their business model gives them a flexibility many of their competitors don't have.
Mobile payments will also be expanded under the latest updates. Apple had already teamed up with American Express, Visa, MasterCard and now Discover and will be available in more than 700,000 locations. That’s up from 220,000 locations when it first launched Apple Pay last October.
Plus, to the chagrin of law enforcement, Apple has already strongly encrypted its mobile devices. Last week during a dinner hosted by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, Apple CEO Tim Cook said, “We don’t just grab everything, so we’re not the richest target for those who want access to that kind of (personal) data … And for encryption—well we’re continuing to do the right and we are moving forward. In an era where our information is digital, portable and sought-after more than ever, we want to build products that keep people’s information safe.”
To be fair, Apple has had well-publicized privacy mistakes in the last year, most notably the hack of dozens of celebrities through Apple iCloud, exposing numerous naked photos and other personal images. Plus, privacy advocates expressed concerns that Spotlight shares user searches and location data with Apple servers.
Clearly privacy is a selling point for companies, including the tech industries biggest. Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Yahoo have all made privacy announcements of their own of late. Now Apple staked claim to significant data minimization and strong encryption.
“Like many of you, we at Apple reject the idea that our customers should have to make tradeoffs between privacy and security,” Cook said last week. “We can, and we must provide both in equal measure. We believe that people have a fundamental right to privacy. The American people demand it, the constitution demands it, morality demands it.”
Hopefully this privacy-enhancing trend continues.
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