Apple unveiled new versions of its operating systems on Monday, showing that the company’s focus on data protection has taken a new turn. It’s no longer just a corporate ideal or a marketing point. It is now a major initiative from Apple that sets its products apart from the Android and Windows competition.
Apple has positioned itself as the most privacy-sensitive large tech company since Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote an open letter on the subject in 2014, according to Ads.
But Monday’s announcements showed that Apple’s privacy strategy is now part of its products: privacy was mentioned as part of almost every new feature and got its own stage time.
Data protection-oriented functions and apps that Apple announced on Monday for the upcoming iOS 15 or MacOS Monterey operating systems include:
- No tracking pixels. The Mail app now runs images through proxy servers to bypass tracking pixels that tell email marketers when and where messages were opened.
- Private relay. Subscribers to Apple’s iCloud storage service get a feature called iCloud + that includes Private Relay, a service that hides users’ IP addresses that are commonly used to infer location. An Apple representative said it was not a virtual private network, a type of service often used by privacy conscious individuals to access web content in areas where it is restricted. Instead, Apple routes web traffic through both an Apple server and a third-party proxy server to remove identifying information.
- Hide my email. iCloud subscribers can create and use temporary, anonymous email addresses, sometimes called burner addresses, in the Mail app.
- App privacy report. In the iPhone settings, Apple tells you which servers apps are connecting to and highlights apps that collect and send data to third parties that the user does not recognize. It also tells users how often the apps use the microphone and camera.
Use the chip chops from Apple
With its focus on data protection, Apple relies on one of its core strengths. Increasingly, data is processed on local devices such as a computer or phone rather than being sent back to large servers for analysis. This is both more private, as the data is not stored on a server, and potentially faster from a technical point of view.
Since Apple is developing both the iPhone and the processors that offer high processing power with low energy consumption, it is best to offer an alternative vision to Android developer Google, who has built its business essentially on internet services.
This technical award has resulted in several new apps and features that do significantly more processing on the phone than in the cloud, including:
- Local Siri. Apple said Monday that now Siri doesn’t have to send audio recordings to a server in order to understand what they’re saying. Instead, Apple’s own speech recognition and processors are powerful enough to do it on the phone. This is a major difference from other assistants like Amazon’s Alexa, which uses servers to decode speech. It could make Siri faster too.
- Organize photos automatically. Apple’s photo app can now use AI software to identify things in your photo library, such as pets or vacation spots, or friends and family, and automatically organize them into galleries and animations, sometimes with musical accompaniment. Many of these features are available in Google Photos, but Google’s software requires that all photos be uploaded to the cloud. Apple’s technology can do the analysis on the device and even search the contents of the photos with text.
Apple’s data protection infrastructure also enables it to expand into large new markets such as online payments, identity, and health, from both a product and marketing perspective.
It can develop new products and at the same time be sure that it is following best practices so as not to collect unnecessary data or to violate guidelines such as the strict European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
Additionally, users may feel more comfortable with features that deal with sensitive data or topics like finance or health because they trust Apple and the way they handle data.
Features introduced by Apple on Monday show how the company is leveraging its user data position to penetrate these lucrative markets.
- Monitoring walking health and sharing medical records. Apple’s health app can now use readings from an iPhone, e.g. B. Movements while walking to warn them of a dangerous fall because they are walking unsafe. Apple will also allow users who connect their iPhone to the health record system to share these records with a doctor, friends or family. Health data is one of the most regulated types of data, and it’s hard to imagine Apple adopting these features unless it was certain it had a good reputation with customers and an in-house expertise in handling sensitive data. “Data protection is fundamental to the design and development of all of our health functions,” said an Apple engineer when the function was introduced.
- Government IDs, keycards and car keys in the wallet app. Apple capitalized on the trust it built in privacy and security when it launched Apple Card, its credit card with Goldman Sachs, where users sign up for a line of credit almost entirely from within the app. Now Apple has introduced several new features to the Wallet app that are most appealing to users who believe that Apple’s security and privacy are up to the task. In iOS 15, Apple allows users to enter car or house keys into their wallet app, which means that someone just needs their phone to get in. Apple also said without much detail that it is working with the Transportation Security Administration to also integrate American ID cards such as a driver’s license into the wallet app.
Cook said that “privacy is a fundamental human right” and that the company’s policies and personal attitudes have nothing to do with retail or Apple products.
But being the big tech company that takes data problems seriously could be lucrative and give Apple more freedom to bring new services and products to market. Facebook, Apple’s neighbor in Silicon Valley and noisy Apple critic, has increasingly faced new product launch challenges due to the company’s poor reputation for handling user data.
Americans also say that privacy is a factor in purchasing decisions. According to a 2020 Pew study, 52% of Americans chose not to use a product or service for privacy reasons.