Apple goes public on how it protects your privacy

Privacy is a word we hear a lot in this digital age especially now we’re all carrying around smartphones everywhere we go. Apple has put this issue top of mind once again with a series of TV spots which basically say “your business is none of our business”.

While Apple has never compared how it handles your privacy on their products with other smartphones manufacturers, studies have shown Android devices gather, on average, 10 times more information about you than iPhones.

Professor Douglas Schmidt, from Vanderbilt University, says Google utilises the tremendous reach of its products to collect detailed information about people’s location and online behaviour.

Schmidt called Google the world’s largest digital advertising company.

Apple is in the business of selling products, services, apps and content and, unlike Google and Facebook, doesn’t want to target its users with advertising.

The only time Apple will really pay attention to what you’re doing is when it collects information about what we listen to, what movies we watch, books we read and the apps we download.

This information is aggregated to help Apple make recommendations when we’re looking for content in the same way Netflix will offer suggestions on programs you might enjoy.

Apple protects your privacy in a number of ways whether you’re using Safari, iMessage, Photos and Apple Pay.

For users of Apple products, their private information does not ever leave their device and it is actually sequestered on the iPhone, iPad or Mac they happen to be using.

And any content stored in iCloud is also encrypted so Apple wouldn’t be able to see it if they tried.

Of course, Apple products are secured with Touch ID with your fingerprint or with your face for Face ID.

Any Apple device that uses Touch ID or Face ID has a separate processor to store your biometric information called a Secure Enclave which forms a separate system on the device.

The Secure Enclave stores encryption keys that are used to secure biometric data and other sensitive information on your device.

It is a well-planned approach rather than bolted on at the end and the architecture of Apple’s devices are designed with this in mind.

Apple’s key pillars when it comes maintaining customer privacy is minimising data collection, on-device intelligence, transparency and control, hiding identities and protecting your data.

When we browse the web, there are cookies that follow us across the internet so an item we were searching is now plastered as an ad on every other site we visit from then on.

But Apple’s Safari browser on iOS devices and on the Mac has Intelligent Tracking Prevention and can now block third party cookies and data which are used for cross-site tracking to serve up ads and collect analytics.

It’s not unusual to find more than 100 trackers on some websites. It’s the real world equivalent of 100 plus people looking over your shoulder in a café at what your browsing on your iPhone.

These settings in Safari are on by default so whenever a site tries to create a cookie it can only do so with your permission.

Apple also has a distinct privacy and security advantage when it comes to messaging.

iMessage – the blue messages sent between iOS devices – is encrypted end to end and sent as data.

A green message bubble means it will be sent through the cellular network with the possibility it could be intercepted in transit.

Location data is also a compromise on your privacy.

But with Apple Maps, all the data that is collected while you’re using the app including searches, navigation routes and traffic is associated with random identifiers that change every few minutes and are not linked to your Apple ID.

And to avoid knowing your specific location in a given area, Apple uses what is called location fuzzing to approximate your position in a larger area rather than knowing your precise location.

You may be surprised to know when you make payments in a store with a physical credit card a lot of information is shared to data brokers without your knowledge including what you bought, where you bought it and how much you paid.

But with Apple Pay, the whole transaction is secure and private and can only be triggered by using Touch ID or Face ID.

Your actual credit card details are never stored on the device or on any of Apple’s servers.

Instead a unique security code is created and encrypted and stored in the Secure Enclave

of the Apple device.

When making a payment with Apple Pay, your credit card information is not even shared with the merchant.

What about third party apps? Do they have the same rules for respecting a user’s privacy?

Any app which wants to be made available through Apple’s App Store must go through a stringent review process and agree to the terms of Apple’s privacy policies.

If at any time information about the user is required, a small pop-up window will appear to ask for your permission.

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