Apple CEO: We Don't Covet Your Data - InformationWeek

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9/18/2014
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Apple CEO: We Don't Covet Your Data

Apple CEO Tim Cook highlights the company's commitment to privacy in an open letter.

 Apple's Next Chapter: 10 Key Issues
Apple's Next Chapter: 10 Key Issues
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Apple CEO Tim Cook declared Wednesday that the company is committed to customer privacy, doesn't read customers' email messages, and doesn't create backdoors in its services for authorities.

In a new privacy section on the company website, Apple draws a contrast between the company's commitment to its customers and the privacy-compromising practices of ad-based businesses.

"We don't build a profile based on your email content or Web browsing habits to sell to advertisers," Cook said in an open letter on the site. "We don't 'monetize' the information you store on your iPhone or in iCloud. And we don't read your email or your messages to get information to market to you. Our software and services are designed to make our devices better. Plain and simple."

Would that it were so simple. Cook acknowledges that Apple, too, is an advertising company, through iAds, but he stresses that iAds is a small part of Apple's business, and that the ad service doesn't rely on data from other Apple services or customers.

Cook never mentions Google by name, but it's clear that Google -- the company he recently cited as Apple's primary competitor -- is one of the "other companies" referred to in the paragraph about FaceTime security.

Regarding FaceTime, Apple's website says, "So unlike other companies' messaging services, Apple doesn't scan your communications, and we wouldn't be able to comply with a wiretap order even if we wanted to."

[Privacy is one thing. But how are sales doing? Read Have Apple's iPads Peaked?]

That's Gmail Apple is talking about. Google scans consumers' Gmail messages to generate targeted ads. Despite the fact that the practice is not meaningfully different from Amazon's recommendation of products based on customers' past purchases -- in each case, automated systems are scanning potentially sensitive data in an effort to provide information the customer hopefully may want -- automated content scanning remains an albatross around Google's neck. Microsoft has also taken aim at Gmail in its Scroogled ad campaign.

But Apple isn't simply repackaging Microsoft's disparagement. The company long ago recognized that it can afford more privacy than ad-dependent Google. That's why it has implemented privacy features like third-party cookie blocking in Safari, the Limit Ad Tracking setting in iOS, and MAC address randomization during passive WiFi network scans in iOS 8. Cook's declaration of commitment to privacy represents a continuation of this strategy.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Apple's evolving view on privacy is its shift toward a zero-knowledge posture, a position until now favored only by the most the most forward-thinking security companies. "On devices running iOS 8, your personal data such as photos, messages (including attachments), email, contacts, call history, iTunes content, notes, and reminders is placed under the protection of your passcode," Apple says on its website. "Unlike our competitors, Apple cannot bypass your passcode and therefore cannot access this data. So it's not technically feasible for us to respond to government warrants for the extraction of this data from devices in their possession running iOS 8."

As the security researcher Jonathan Zdziarski points out in a response to Cook's letter, Apple is taking a brave and welcome stance in defense of privacy, but that doesn't mean government authorities can't access an Apple customer's data anyway. Despite improvements in iOS 8 that close some holes that Zdziarski previously identified, Apple's decision to allow users to access files and apps while a mobile device is locked means that videos, images, media files, and third-party application data can still be accessed using forensic tools if a trusted paired device (a Mac running iTunes for synchronization and backup) is available.

It's also worth noting that, though Apple claims iOS 8 device data is beyond its reach, the company makes no such claim about iOS 8 device data copied to Apple's iCloud service.

Nonetheless, Apple has raised the bar for privacy and security on mobile devices.

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Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio

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@david__allen
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@david__allen,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/26/2014 | 2:07:42 PM
Re: If privacy is so 20th century, then let's go back to the future
it is weird that with social media some users have no worries about sharing personal information and yet when it comes to privacy or rather a breach of privacy all of a sudden it is wrong. It could be called double standards or just a sign of the times.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
9/22/2014 | 7:38:42 PM
Re: Interesting timing
@Susan- I don't think the breach caused the announcement, so much as the announcement looks ridiculous in light of the breach. That said, it doesn't matter. At this point, we must trust our data to nearly every company. There is no way to be private anymore. I'm not sure privacy is a comptetive differentiator at this point.
Susan Fourtané
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Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Author
9/20/2014 | 5:30:36 AM
Apple doesn't need our data to make money
Thomas, 

Excellent article. This is the best article I have read so far around the iOS 8, iPhone 6, and iPhone 6 Plus release. I appreciate you brought up Tom Cook's letter, the site dedicated to privacy, and showed the other side of the coin.

It has been very frustrating to read so much about "privacy concerns,"which are the same old stories I have been hearing for years now. That, despite people broadcasting their location, pictures, music, thoughts, what they eat, when, where, and with whom to the entire world without any problem.

So, why they are all of a sudden so "concerned" (an overused word) about those same pictures, music, and thoughts when it comes to "protect them" from a company that, as Tim Cook well said, earns nothing from all that, and has no interest, or reason in monetizing such information. It would be a waste of time, money, and resources.

I could go on and on about those inconsistencies that some people don't seem to see.

Thanks, Thomas, for an article I really enjoyed because it speaks about balance, and reminds us that before speaking it is a good practice to learn about all the facts first. 

-Susan 
Susan Fourtané
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Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Author
9/20/2014 | 3:19:28 AM
Re: If privacy is so 20th century, then let's go back to the future
Thomas, 

"The continued existence of Facebook tells me that privacy is still the exception rather than the rule."

There is no consistency in how people use FB and Foursquare and how they complain about about privacy. Sometimes it seems some people have nothing else to talk about and the repeat the same old again and again, things you keep on reading year after year, without any change in substance. 

-Susan
Susan Fourtané
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Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Author
9/20/2014 | 3:11:37 AM
Re: Interesting timing
Dave, 

I don't think those pictures were the reason. Tim Cook's letter came at the time of the iOS 8 release, and supporting the link to security and privacy that you find when you download iOS 8. I wonder how many people actually read what the update includes and visit that link before do all the secirity and privacy talking. 

-Susan
Shane M. O'Neill
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Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
9/19/2014 | 5:57:29 PM
Re: Interesting timing
Apple has mostly stayed out of the privacy fight and let Microsoft take potshots at Google. I think Cook's letter has everything to do with the iCloud hack. He waited long enough to address it -- albeit indirectly -- so it didn't seem like damage control.
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
9/19/2014 | 3:20:08 PM
Re: If privacy is so 20th century, then let's go back to the future
Apple will get some traction out of it but less than I think the company hopes. Privacy is a lot easier to give away than to keep. The continued existence of Facebook tells me that privacy is still the exception rather than the rule.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
9/19/2014 | 10:46:22 AM
Re: If privacy is so 20th century, then let's go back to the future
I think Charlie makes a fair point. If Apple is smart, it could play the privacy card against Google for a good long while. Apple's success does not depend on mining my data.
jastroff
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jastroff,
User Rank: Ninja
9/19/2014 | 10:44:20 AM
Re: If privacy is so 20th century, then let's go back to the future
Kodak didn't look at our pictures, or publish them, or use them. They provided a good service and good cameras. Apple reminds me of Kodak. Similar outlook about "innovation" 

 

The thought here is not that  using personal data is the only way to stay in business. The idea was that the way Apple continues to poke along is not going to sustain it. That's a very different thought than advocating they mine personal data to boost profits
Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
9/18/2014 | 9:52:48 PM
If privacy is so 20th century, then let's go back to the future
Agreed, Apple's statements on privacy are still a little suspect, but Cook has a point when he says Apple doesn't need to read your email. It's not making its money by serving your private profile up advertisers. It makes plenty on the sale of handsets. If this is a 20th century practice, then there's a lot of companies that wish they could go back to the future. Apple's right on this: privacy is a competitive advantage. Did you hear that Google?
Page 1 / 2   >   >>
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