Apple's silent campaign to become the queen of privacy

Apple's silent campaign to become the queen of privacy

Behind the scenes of commercial announcements, the Cupertino house is pushing investments in the development of unprecedented data protection features on the market

Photo: Eric Thayer / Getty Images Apple accelerates on privacy. The company explicitly says so, but in reality it is only the tip of the iceberg: hundreds of new features have emerged from the meetings of the Cupertino developer conference to increase respect for user data. Apple is strengthening its platform's advantage over its privacy competition. Over the past fifteen years, in the intentions declared several times first by Steve Jobs and then by Tim Cook, Cupertino has recognized privacy as a "fundamental human right".

This phrase is repeated like a mantra by Cook and by all the managers with whom we talk about the functionalities of Apple's computer, phone and tablet operating systems, but also watches, set-top-boxes , smart speakers, voice assistant, cloud services. Apple argues that this is "the right thing to do", although critics have pointed out that it would actually be a way to control and dominate its platform, "closing" it to third parties such as Amazon, Facebook, Google and all various service providers who have as a source of income the tracking of users and advertising or in any case the monetization of profiles. Not to mention the apps.

In reality, the two points of view are not automatically mutually exclusive and Apple is demonstrating, if nothing else, a rare consistency in implementing functions that aim to give users "control of their data". Externally, however, only the most visible solutions designed for customers are communicated for some time. For example, the company introduced cookie blocking as a preconfigured set for Safari as early as 2003, iOS 11's intelligent tracking prevention in 2017, and the creation of "Sign-with-Apple" to sign up anonymously through Apple to Apple services. third parties, up to the introduction of functions for transparency in the tracking by the apps that have greatly alarmed the advertising sector. A line that also emerged in the latest edition of Wwdc 2021, the developer conference on June 7.

Behind the scenes

To understand what is really happening, however, Wired spoke to some developers (who cannot make official statements due to confidentiality ties with Apple) regarding what happens in the part for insiders, to understand how many technical solutions have been implemented. Among the innovations officially presented to the general public, Apple has created in particular a function for the protection of privacy in Mail, the Mac, iPhone and iPad email client. In all these devices, Mail will prevent those who send a newsletter or a spam message from collecting information about the type of user: when the email is opened, from where, which links are followed.

This function is added to the system of Safari's intelligent tracking prevention, which is enhanced by also hiding the internet address from which you connect. The function is called Private Relay and not even Apple has the information on who is browsing which site. That a giant like Apple offers a complete anonymization service of these proportions is an absolute novelty.

The enhanced system is for iCloud subscribers who, in the new version always at the same price, will also offer an automatic way to hide your email from third parties and take advantage of secure video for cameras connected to HomeKit, Apple's intelligent home automation system.

In addition to this, Apple has created a system for iOs 15 and iPadOs 15 called the App Privacy Report which allows users to see in a settings screen which apps have permission to do what (access the location, take photos, videos, audio), which they have used it in the last seven days and who they may be with shared the data through a list of all third-party domains that the app contacts.

Finally Siri, Apple's voice assistant, which by the end of the year will also land in an enhanced form in Italy, reloc a: the processing of the voice recognition necessary to activate the assistant no longer takes place in the cloud but locally on phones, tablets and Macs equipped with an Apple Silicon processor. In this way, Apple technicians would not be able to listen to the conversations at home even if they wanted to.

Rendering of the new Apple campus in North Carolina (press office photo)


Sul in the face of the news for developers presented at WWDC 2021, those on the data protection front are "micro" but, according to the interested parties, very numerous: memory protection, limits to the types of third-party SDKs that can be integrated into your own code , method of anonymization of data registration requests, mandatory presence of a cancellation function within the apps in which users can register, to give examples. But there is much more.

Above all, a flood of new APIs designed for privacy (transparency and data controls by users and the security part) scattered among the different functionalities of the platforms of Apple: from Handoff that deals with the wireless passage of information between Apple devices, to GameKit for games, MapKit for location, CloudKit for iCloud services, but also the research and health part (where personal information is further anonymized are provided to developers of apps for medical research and experimentation with ResearchKit and CareKit), and again PassKit (the Apple wallet and the ApplePay payment system, but also the identity documents in perspective) and WidgetKit, with the new functions enhanced, for example, for the home of iPadOs.

Out of the 250,000 APIs that Apple claims to provide overall through the various developer kits (SDKs) on its platforms, the number of solutions technical ions designed for the protection of data and user privacy continues to grow significantly and, according to the developers who also work on other platforms, today has “unusual” dimensions. This adds to the complexity for developers and perhaps slowed Apple down over time. What Craig Federighi, Apple executive, calls "a competitive disadvantage from the point of view of others, but the right thing to do". For example, it has made it more difficult to make Apple's maps "rich" or Siri's functions truly personal compared to competing services.

However, the analysis of the toolsets available on Xcode, the Apple's integrated development environment (IDE), according to the developers interviewed by Wired demonstrates without a shadow of a doubt that Apple is doing a unique job on privacy compared to all the competition (i.e. Microsoft, Google, Amazon and Facebook) and is accelerating further. There may be a lot of criticism about the direction and purpose for which Apple protects its users' privacy, but now it is unquestionable that it does so.

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