by Brandon Butler 11/6/2019

Tim Cook, via Twitter:

At Apple, privacy is built into everything we make. You decide what you share, how you share it, and who you share it with. Here’s how we protect your data.

I like this new privacy page: Apple is using fun animations and easy to understand explanations on what they’re doing to protect user privacy. If you’re looking for more in-depth explanations, the Features page has white papers and tech briefs, such as this one on the new Sign in with Apple:

Sign in with Apple is a new service from Apple that allows users to sign in to apps and websites quickly and easily using the Apple IDs they already have. It’s a privacy-friendly alternative to other single sign-on solutions and provides users with the convenience of one-tap sign-in combined with superior security and improved privacy and control over their personal information.

The tech briefs are highly accessible and written in non-technical terms, like this section on detecting fraud:

Apple has gone to great lengths to ensure the indicator is calculated in a privacy-preserving manner. First, on-device machine learning (ML) is employed to measure if the device the account is originating from is being used in a way that’s consistent with ordinary, everyday behavior such as moving from place to place, sending messages, receiving emails, or taking photos. This analysis yields a tamper-proof numerical score that is sent to Apple indicating a level of confidence that the device is being used by a real person. The score cannot be reverse-engineered by Apple to reveal any personal information, and none of the specific inputs to the ML models ever leaves the user’s device.

It’s clear the Marketing department wrote most of these pages, but I think that’s fine. And it’s par for the course with Apple, right? They don’t usually show us too far behind the scenes, and with Privacy, Apple has essentially turned the idea into a product. It’s like the TV app or an Arcade subscription: it’s embedded in every device and available on every platform.

But Privacy is a tricky product to sell. It’s easy to screw up, like with Siri grading a few months back. And when you declare privacy as a human right and a core value but also screw it up, there are big headlines. Let’s also remember that some Apple services, like data stored on iCloud, can still be accessed by Apple (for law enforcement, for example), so not every aspect of your digital life is covered by this Privacy product. (But Apple could make this data inaccessible to themselves by simply discarding their keys to the encryption, meaning only your iCloud password will decrypt your iCloud data. The issue here is if a user forgets their password, their data is permanently gone. I know they’re working on it, but this doesn’t seem like an easy problem to solve. Apple is clearly trying to maintain a level of good consumer customer service, which I can appreciate (imagine being told your photos for the last ten years are gone forever because you can’t remember your password) but I have a suggestion: Give us a checkbox that says, “Throw out my encryption keys, I promise I won’t ever forget my password.”)

Most of what is covered by Privacy is easy for Apple to anonymize and not record, because they simply don’t need the data. Apple isn’t selling ads, so location, browser history, cookie tracking, what you read and watch, your health data, what you buy, none of this Apple needs or wants to know. The few things that it needs — like Siri recordings — it needs to improve the product because there’s no other way to do so. And I’m okay with providing my audio samples from Siri. Apple doesn’t use the data to target ads, so the data is kept by Apple for Apple’s use to improve the service, and nothing more. If you want Siri to get better, you have to allow Apple to use your anonymized Siri data. There is no other way. And Siri desperately needs to get better.

I still see many misconceptions where someone says they won’t use the Apple Card because they don’t want Apple tracking everything they buy, or they won’t use the Apple Watch because they don’t want Apple knowing their health information, so Apple clearly has a ways to go with informing the public on their approach to Privacy. I wonder if the Tips app could transform to become a Tips and Privacy app, presenting curious users with more information on Apple Privacy. But I also wonder if anyone would bother to read it.

Maybe they could just make more commercials.