As competitors like Google and Facebook have come in for a barrage of criticism in recent months of their disregard for user privacy, Apple has quietly kept its head down and continued to be judged on its actions. And they seem to be doing pretty well at the moment.
This week, Apple has announced that it is launching a new website which will enable users in the USA to see exactly what personal data the company holds on them.
What the privacy portal does
They launched a similar website in the EU back in May as part of moves to make themselves compliant with the EU’s new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) regime.
But they are under no such obligations in the USA, where far from beefing up user privacy rules, the FCC under the Chairmanship of Ajit Pai has been systematically stripping them away.
Nevertheless, the company has opted to make the new privacy portal accessible to all users in the USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand as well as EU member states.
On the new site, users can see all the data that has been collected about them and passed back to Apple. It works for all major Apple devices including iPhone’s, iPad’s, and Mac computers and laptops.
The type of data users can expect to be revealed includes things like calendar entries, photos, reminders, documents, website bookmarks, details of items purchased from the App Store purchases and support history of any repairs carried out on your device.
How to access Apple’s privacy portal
To use the new service, you will first have to log-in to your Apple account. If you have enabled two-factor authentication, you will have to input a code sent to the device as well.
On the toolbar at the top of the subsequent screen, you should then select ‘Manage Your Privacy’ followed by ‘Take charge of your data.’ Next, click on ‘Visit your Data and Privacy page’ and finally select the ‘Get a copy of your data’ option.
The site will then give you the chance to select what data you would like to download. Apple will then prepare a report which will include the requested data.
The process is not a fast one. The company warns that it can take up to seven days for the report to be sent out. But this is because Apple needs to be sure that it really is the account holder making the request.
The launch of the new privacy portal coincides with Apple pushing out the latest versions of its two main operating systems; iOS 12 and macOS Mojave, both of which include various other privacy features.
On the privacy portal itself, you can read about how Apple uses end-to-end encryption on all its communication tools, including FaceTime, iMessage, and Apple Pay. There is also information on what their web browser Safari does to help stop websites tracking you online.
How Apple differs from other tech companies
This is all part of Apple’s new dictum that “privacy is a fundamental human right”. Given that this approach has emerged at a time when their main rivals are getting hammered for their lax attitude to user privacy, cynics will no doubt suggest it is a marketing strategy.
They may be right, but if Apple’s marketing approach involves them securing the online privacy of their users, then it looks like everyone (apart from the likes of Google and Facebook) are winners.
Apple CEO Tim Cook said in an interview in March of this year, “The truth is, we could make a ton of money if we monetized our customer — if our customer was our product. We’ve elected not to do that.”
This comment is a little disingenuous as Apple still collects plenty of information about its users and they do so for a reason. The fact that they can gather all this identifiable user information when users request it also rather undermines their claims to anonymise what data they do collect.
But, the fact is that Apple’s products are significantly more privacy-friendly than almost all of their rivals. And in opening up this privacy portal, Apple is also seeking to be transparent about its data collection practices in a way that Google and Facebook aren’t.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take extra privacy precautions when using an Apple device. iPhone, iPad, and Mac users should still be sure to use a VPN whenever possible.
But Apple is still better than the rest of the market. And by enhancing their privacy features they are also bucking the current trend which sees companies are trying to gather more and more data about their customers. That, if nothing else, is something that all privacy-conscious users should welcome.