Apple unveiled new versions of its operating systems on Monday, which showed that the company’s focus on privacy has taken a new turn. It’s not just a business ideal or a marketing point anymore. It is now a major initiative across Apple that differentiates its products from the Android and Windows competition.
Apple has positioned itself as the most privacy-sensitive major technology company since Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote an open letter on the subject in 201
But Monday’s announcements showed that Apple’s privacy strategy is now part of the products: Privacy was mentioned as part of almost all new features, and got the stage time for itself.
Privacy-focused features and apps announced by Apple on Monday for upcoming iOS 15 or MacOS Monterey operating systems including:
- No tracking pixels. The Mail app will now run images through proxy servers to defeat 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 the user’s IP addresses, which is often used to divert location. An Apple representative said it is not a virtual private network, a type of service often used by privacy-sensitive people to access web content in restricted areas. Instead, Apple will send web traffic through both an Apple server and a third-party proxy server to remove identification information.
- Hide my email. iCloud subscribers will be able to create and use temporary, anonymous email addresses, sometimes called burner addresses, in the Mail app.
- Apps privacy report. Inside the iPhone settings, Apple will tell you which servers apps connect to, and shine a light on apps that collect data and send it to third parties the user does not recognize. It will also tell users how often the apps use a microphone and camera.
Take advantage of Apple’s chips
With its focus on privacy, Apple leans on one of its core strengths. Increasingly, data is processed on local devices, such as a computer or telephone, instead of being sent back to large servers for analysis. This is both more private, because the data does not live on a server, and potentially faster from a technical point of view.
Because Apple designs both iPhones and processors that offer powerful, low-power processing power, it’s best to offer an alternative vision to Android developer Google, which has actually built its business around Internet services.
This technical separation has resulted in several new apps and features that make significantly more processing on the phone instead of in the cloud, including:
- Local Siri. Apple said Monday that Siri now does not need to send audio recordings to a server to understand what they are saying. Instead, Apple’s own voice recognition and processors are powerful enough to make them on the phone. This is a big difference from other assistants like Amazon’s Alexa, which use servers to decipher speech. It can also make Siri faster.
- Organizes photos automatically. The Apple Photos app can now use AI software to identify things in your photo library, such as pets, resorts 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 all images to be uploaded to the cloud. Apple technology can do the analysis on the device and even search the content of the images with text.
Apple’s privacy infrastructure also makes it possible to expand into large new markets such as online payments, identity and health, both from a product and marketing perspective.
It can build new products while ensuring that it follows best practices so as not to collect unnecessary data or break guidelines such as Europe’s strict general data protection regulation (GDPR).
In addition, users may feel more comfortable with features that handle sensitive data or topics – such as finance or health – because they trust Apple and its approach to data.
Features introduced by Apple on Monday show how the company uses its user data position to break into these lucrative markets.
- Monitor health on foot and share medical records. Apple’s health app can now use readings from an iPhone, such as movement when the user walks, to warn them that they may be at risk of a harmful fall because they walk unstable. Apple will also allow users who connect their iPhone to the health registration system to share these records with a doctor, friends or family. Health data is among the most regulated data types, and it is difficult to see that Apple introduces these features unless they were sure that they had a good reputation among customers and internal expertise in handling sensitive data. “Privacy is fundamental in design and development across all of our health features,” said an Apple engineer as he introduced the feature.
- Public IDs, key cards and car keys in the Wallet app. Apple used the trust it has built into privacy and security when it launched the Apple Card, its credit card with Goldman Sachs, where users sign up for a line of credit almost completely inside the app. Now Apple has introduced several new features for the Wallet app that are most attractive to users who believe Apple’s security and privacy are up to the task. In iOS 15, Apple will allow users to insert car or home keys into their wallet, which means that all someone needs to enter is their phone. Apple also said, without much detail, that it is working with the Transportation Security Administration to place US ID cards, such as a driver’s license, also in the Wallet app.
Cook has stated that “privacy is a fundamental human right”, and that the company’s guidelines and his personal attitude have nothing to do with trade or Apple products.
But being the big technology company that takes computer issues seriously can end up being lucrative and giving Apple more freedom to launch new services and products. Facebook, Apple’s neighbor in Silicon Valley and vocal Apple critic, have increasingly faced challenges in launching new products due to the company’s bad reputation for handling user data.
Americans also say that privacy is included in purchasing decisions. A 2020 Pew study found that 52% of Americans decided not to use a product or service because of concerns about data protection.