by Brandon Butler
Apple’s A Day in the Life of Your Data 1/28/2021

Apple today released a document titled, A Day in the Life of Your Data (PDF), which tells the story of a father and daughter’s day at the park and the massive amount of personal data apps and websites siphon from our everyday devices:

Over the past decade, a large and opaque industry has been amassing increasing amounts of personal data.

A complex ecosystem of websites, apps, social media companies, data brokers, and ad tech firms track users online and offline, harvesting their personal data. This data is pieced together, shared, aggregated, and monetized, fueling a $227 billion-a-yearindustry. This occurs everyday, as people go about their daily lives, often without their knowledge or permission. Let’s take a look at what this industry is able to learn about a father and daughter during a pleasant day spent at the park.

As part of the “story,” the daughter, Emma, plays a game on the tablet:

Later at the playground, John and Emma take a selfie. They play with a photo filter app, settling on adding bunny ears to the photo. The filtering app, however, is able to access all the photos on the device and the attached metadata, rather than only the playground selfie.32,33 John posts the picture on a social media
app. The app links John’s current online activity to a trove of data collected by other apps, such as his demographic information and purchasing habits, using an email address, a phone number or an advertising identifier.

Although the tablet in the graphic clearly resembles an iPad, I think in the first example this is a generic, likely Android, tablet. Later, the document explains how John and Emma’s data and privacy would be protected had they used an Apple device:

On an iPhone, John would have had the choice to give the filter app access to only the selfie, instead of the entire photo library.

To someone skeptical of Apple, it could read like hyperbole, but this is closer to fact than fiction. The amount of data that is pulled out of our devices for the sole purpose of showing us advertising is astonishing. Apple, of course, cites their sources, and near the end they present a brief FAQ with a couple of sweet morsels:

Will I still be able to use the app’s full capabilities if I select “Ask App not to Track”?

Yes. App developers cannot require you to permit tracking in order to use the app’s full capabilities.

Can Apple guarantee that an app isn’t tracking me if I select “Ask App not to Track”?

If you select “Ask App not to Track,” the developer will not be able to access the system advertising identifier (IDFA), which is often used to track. The app developer is also required
to respect your choice beyond the advertising identifier. This is required by the policies the de- veloper agrees to when submitting their app for distribution on the App Store — if we learn that a developer is tracking users who ask not to be tracked, we will require that they update their practices to respect your choice, or their app may be rejected from the App Store.

Google and Facebook are acting like Apple is bringing about the end of the internet with these changes, but I see this as Apple protecting the internet more than anything else. If user’s can’t trust the apps and games they’re using, they’re not going to use them. Or, conversely, users will become apathetic to the protections of their data and privacy to the point that, like Tom Cook said today at the CPDP Conference, “we lose the freedom to be human.”