Like the increasing severity of floods, hurricanes, and other natural disasters, it seems that there are increasingly severe global incidents of large-scale abuse, misuse, and poor handling of consumer data by tech companies, social media companies, and financial sector companies.
Apple CEO Tim Cook has been a very vocal critic of such incidents, noting that often they are the result of companies being neglectful, uncaring, and even exploitative when it comes to customer data.
The March 2018 updates to Apple desktop, laptop, and mobile device operating systems (MacOS 10.13.4 and iOS 11.3) include a privacy statement which summarized seems like veiled criticisms of Facebook, the most recent company to be in the news for having mishandled data for millions of users.
Various news reports from 29 March 2018 have identified what’s stated above. Here’s an excerpt from a Fortune article:
Just one day after CEO Tim Cook had some harsh words about how Facebook handled user data (noting that Apple is “not going to traffic in your personal life”), the company has released iOS 11.3, which unveils new privacy controls.
A new icon will appear when an Apple feature asks to use your personal information —and in the description page, the company notes “Apple believes privacy is a fundamental human right, so every Apple product is designed to minimize the collection and use of your data…and provide transparency and control over your information.”
Below you’ll find more details of the recently released privacy statements that appear when you first startup your devices and certain programs.
What Other Companies Are Doing
Google allows user to download all their data that’s stored on Google servers, and you’d be surprised how much data they have on you going back years. Login and go to the Takeout page to download your own data. Keep in mind, the downloads may be in excess of 20GB. You can have that broken down into smaller chunks of files. The ability to see the actual data is better than reading vague policies about the importance of user privacy. It would be nice for Apple to offer a similar service. Here’s what the download request page offers.
A drawback to having this convenience is that if your Google account gets hacked, all of your data spanning decades could be downloaded by a malicious third party in just a few minutes.
Microsoft has a unified services agreement available for anyone to see, all on a single web page. Scroll to the bottom of that page and you’ll see a comprehensive list of Microsoft products that are covered by this one policy. You can easily find and read recent changes to the agreement.
At the bottom of their change-log page, in an update from July 2015, Microsoft states:
We published a new Microsoft Privacy Statement that brought together many separate privacy statements into a single statement covering most of Microsoft’s consumer services. This restructuring of Microsoft’s privacy disclosures was designed to eliminate redundancies, improve usability, and increase clarity and transparency.
Apple Refuses to Show Their Transparency Statement
There’s a lot of overlap between terms and conditions (T&Cs), end user license agreements (EULAs), and privacy statements. These all outline and define what users can expect when interacting with products and services from a given company. As can be seen in the excerpt above, Microsoft recognizes that a proclamation of ‘transparency’ is only as good as the supporting documents behind it. This is why they make their services agreement and privacy statements available in their entirety online.
The statement “Apple Refuses to Show Their Transparency Statement” refers to how Apple is making it difficult or impossible for users to easily view and retain a copy of the policies they are agreeing to after restarting devices following the recent March 2018 updates.
With past Apple agreements, it was possible to click on a link to view a web page with the entire agreement, or have the agreement, in full, emailed to you. With the March 2018 updates from Apple, there are over 100 ‘pages’ (screens) of information about Apple privacy policies. Here’s what we know:
- This appears to be new information that mostly isn’t available anywhere else.
- There’s no way to have his information emailed to you.
- There’s no link where you can view this information in its entirety. The Apple.com/privacy link is offered, but that web page is an oversimplified view and doesn’t offer the details provided during the one-time startup screens. A few other links are provided, but only for narrow topics.
- You can’t take a screen shot of this information — pressing the power and home keys doesn’t work. There’s no option to ‘disagree’ or agree to the terms.
- Your options are to either throw away your device and stop using it, or though implied consent continue to use the device.
At a time when Apple has a wonderful opportunity to shine and establish exemplary best practices, they have really dropped the ball — causing attention to be drawn to their policies and practices, but then not having the details of those policies and practices available in a single location.
The Apple.com/privacy page offers additional links to many different pages with general descriptions but no specific details about what data is retained — at least not as specific as the one-time startup screens you’ll see. It’s more like simplified marketing and advertising statements to reassure existing and potential customers.
This morning, upon installing the latest iOS and MacOS updates, instead of being able to just click a button that says “email me the agreement” I had to take almost 200 photos of the agreement screens just so I’d have a record. Most people, anxious to get back to using their device, will just skip past this information quickly without reading it. I wanted to have a detailed record that I could refer back to.
This could all be fixed if Apple would allow users to access and retain a copy of the exhaustive privacy statements made on the iOS and MacOS devices. Perhaps such a document exists somewhere, but they aren’t making it easy to find — which is the opposite of transparency. Apple should follow Microsoft’s example by making this information public and easy to find.
Why is Apple Choosing Worst Practices?
The above conundrum leaves consumers wondering why Apple would choose what seem like worst practices rather than best practices. We’re left with the ambiguity of not really knowing.
A common practice for less reputable individuals and businesses is to not put anything in writing. This gives them the ability to deny having agreed to something, or later modify the agreement if it’s verbal or ambiguous. By providing over 100 screens of information that the user can’t retain, Apple would be able to later change those statements, or discontinue them. They are not binding, and thus really meaningless.
There is no recourse in the future for consumers who feel that Apple hasn’t followed through with something promised in those one-time startup screens. In this way, it protects Apple from lawsuits relating to breach of contract relating to privacy.
As was stated previously, Apple could avoid all these problems by following Microsoft’s example in having comprehensive detailed practices and policies available online.
Apple Corporate Privacy Statement
The privacy statement on Apple’s website has been updated with an easy to understand presentation of how the privacy policies impact users. Here’s a summary from the top of the page.
At Apple, we believe privacy is a fundamental human right.
And so much of your personal information — information you have a right to keep private — lives on your Apple devices.
Your heart rate after a run. Which news stories you read first. Where you bought your last coffee. What websites you visit. Who you call, email, or message.
Every Apple product is designed from the ground up to protect that information. And to empower you to choose what you share and with whom.
We’ve proved time and again that great experiences don’t have to come at the expense of your privacy and security. Instead, they can support them.
Apple offers three documents that provide more details about their overall privacy strategy:
- Apple Approach to Privacy – How Apple protects privacy on various products.
- How to Manage Your Privacy – How users can secure their devices and programs.
- Law Enforcement and Privacy – How Apple responds to requests from law enforcement agencies and governments, including a full summary history of what Apple has disclosed over the past five years.
While simplified presentations are certainly helpful and necessary, at some point it’s equally essential to provide the actual details for agreements, policies, and practices.
Why We Hear So Little Criticism of Apple
In writing the above article, there’s a natural hesitancy among ‘fanboys’ like myself to not say anything negative about Apple. Those of us who are reliant on the Apple ecosystem of products and services want to see an increase in public approval of and reliance on all things Apple.
Over the years, Apple has abruptly discontinued entire product lines due, in part, to insufficient consumer demand — such as Apple displays, Apple servers, Website software/hosting. So, in helping promote Apple products and services, the hope is that a greater market share will reduce the disruption that comes from the loss of endangered products.
Due to these factors, there’s very little criticism of Apple from the committed Apple users who might otherwise be in a very good position to offer helpful suggestions for improvement.
Apple does offer a confidential feedback portal where people can submit bug reports, as well as online discussion forums where there are occasionally bugs that get get thousands of complaints, but in general, Apple has a committed user community that is reserved about criticizing the company.