Apple’s approach to privacy

Ben Evans writes:

Apple’s approach to privacy has been a topic for quite a while now. Five or six years ago, when it became clear how important machine learning would be, a lot of people wondered if Apple’s increasingly vocal advocacy for privacy could be a strategic liability. ML was the future and ML was data, but Apple was talking a lot about not collecting data. It turned out that Apple was able to collect all the data it wanted, in ways that it could claim were still private, and perhaps just as importantly it was also able to persuade machine learning people to find a home inside Apple’s culture. Conversely, privacy has become more and more of a strategic asset, both in the abstract as a marketing tool but much more tangibly as Apple built things like payment, credit cards, smart speakers, watches, biometric sensors and now, probably, AR glasses (which, amongst other things, are a wearable camera and microphone).

This also reflects a broader theme – Apple has a tendency to build up strategic assets in discrete blocks and small parts of products, and then combine them into one.

It’s been planning to shift the Mac to its own silicon for close to a decade, and added biometrics to its products before adding Apple Pay and then a credit card. Now it has Apple Pay and ‘Sign in with Apple’ as new building blocks on the web, that might be combined into other things. It seems pretty obvious that Privacy is another of those building blocks, deployed step by step in lots of different places. Privacy has been good business for Apple, and advertising is a bigger business than all of those.

(emphasis mine)

The most important takeaway here – Apple building small parts of “strategic assets” and then using its marketing machinery to push through what’s possible. I won’t get into specifics of “ad-business” – it is of no context here. However, Apple is pushing through the idea of “cohorts”. like what Google is promising to do with the browser. Instead of individual targeting, it is going to target groups of individuals.

I had written about it earlier.

My stance is privacy is clear.

Here’s something from the Vivaldi Blog

Advertising companies no longer get to see a unique identifier so they cannot see exactly what you browsed — unless they also happen to be the same company that makes the browser you are using — so they cannot see you specifically. It does sound great.

But they can see that every person who buys certain medical products seems to be in the group (FLoC) 1324, or 98744, or 19287. They can still work out that you have that certain medical issue. That you seem to be in a certain age group, or that you seem to have certain character traits because you share the same ID as other people that have those traits. The company that gets to know the most about that ID is the one that controls the largest amount of the advertising space — Google.

(emphasis mine)

Going back to what Ben Evans writes on Apple’s proposal:

In parallel, Apple has built up its own ad system on the iPhone, which records, tracks and targets users and serves them ads, but does this on the device itself rather than on the cloud, and only its own apps and services. Apple tracks lots of different aspects of your behaviour and uses that data to put you into anonymised interest-based cohorts and serve you ads that are targeted to your interests, in the App Store, Stocks and News apps. You can read Apple’s description of that here – Apple is tracking a lot of user data, but nothing leaves your phone. Your phone is tracking you, but it doesn’t tell anyone anything

If you see the whole picture, your phone will eventually track you for everything. It’s tracking your sleep patterns and physical activity through your Apple Watch. I won’t be surprised you start getting advertisements for “health apps” with subscriptions. They will price it higher by making specific statistical bets you will remain unhealthy – because you have used Apple Notes (and Apple Pay) for your groceries. If you zoom out, the probability of you using your health service provider in your location can be extrapolated to your entire locality/town, and premiums will eventually reflect your behaviour.

Still need that shiny iGadget? Think again.