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apple

Apple exec dismisses Google CEO’s criticism over turning privacy into a ‘luxury good’

May 29, 2019

By Jacob Kastrenakes@jake_k May 27, 2019, 12:18pm EDT

Apple’s software chief, Craig Federighi, says he doesn’t “buy into” the criticism that Apple is turning privacy into a luxury good, an accusation that was indirectly leveled at the company by Google CEO Sundar Pichai.

In an interview with The Independent, Federighi dismissed “the luxury good dig,” just a couple weeks after Pichai wrote an op-ed in The New York Times saying that “privacy cannot be a luxury good offered only to people who can afford to buy premium products and services.” While Pichai didn’t name Apple, which has recently advertised the privacy benefits of its $999 phone, there’s no mistaking which company he’s referring to.

FEDERIGHI SAYS MINIMIZING DATA COLLECTION MEANS THERE’S LESS OF A RISK IN CHINA
Apple wants to sell products to “everyone we possibly could,” Federighi said, adding that Apple’s products are “certainly not just a luxury.” The argument stems over the difference in business models between the two companies: Apple sells generally high-priced hardware directly to customers, so it doesn’t need to collect much data on them; while Google offers a multitude of free services to users, primarily profiting off of ads displayed on those services that are often targeted based on user data. Pichai argued that it’s important to provide privacy-protective services that everyone has access to.

Federighi said it’s “gratifying” to see other companies discussing privacy, but that it’ll take more than “a couple of months and a couple of press releases” to change these companies’ business practices, which rely on data collection. Federighi didn’t name Google specifically, but likewise, it’s pretty clear which company he’s referring to.

In the interview, Federighi also addressed two other criticisms of Apple’s privacy stance: that it shouldn’t be storing Chinese’ users iCloud data in China, where the country could spy on it; and that its choice not to collect much user data has made it fall behind when it comes to develop AI features, like Siri.

On China, Federighi suggests that storing data within the country isn’t as big of a risk for Apple as it would be for other companies, because of “all of our data minimization techniques.” Between encrypting data and collecting a small amount of data in the first place, Federighi says there’s not much to access on its Chinese iCloud servers, and that anyone who does gain access wouldn’t be able to do much with that information.

Federighi also says he sees the choice between collecting data and building powerful new AI features as a “false trade off.” Building these features without collecting additional user data, “sometimes that’s extra work,” he says. “But that’s worth it.”

Apple does that in a handful of ways, according to the report. That includes buying a catalog of public photos it can use to train algorithms on, as well as analyzing publicly available voice data — like podcasts — instead of using voice recordings from users. Apple has also revealed in the past that it uses differential privacy techniques to anonymize user data and learn from the data in aggregate.

The privacy battle between these two companies is unlikely to slow down. Because Apple’s business model doesn’t involve selling ads, privacy is a key area that Apple can use to make its products stand out, which incentivizes the company to keep volleying back at Google.

Google, meanwhile, understands that the cultural tide is turning against massive data collection, largely thanks to Facebook’s constant scandals, and it’s been making small changes to limit some of those concerns. Just this month, that’s included a new easy-to-read privacy policy for Nest devices, limits to ad tracking in Chrome, and Incognito modes for more apps.

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Apple tied to new privacy website, suggesting future security marketing

March 6, 2019

The iPhone maker, which makes privacy a selling point for its devices, appears to be gearing up for another marketing push with PrivacyIsImportant.com.

BY
IAN SHERR
MARCH 5, 2019 6:35 PM PST

The tech industry’s already-boiling privacy debate may get even hotter soon.

Apple appears to have purchased the web address PrivacyIsImportant.com, which according to public registration records, was bought on March 4. Currently, the site is just a blank white page. MacRumors was fist to notice the domain purchase. Apple didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

If indeed Apple is planning something, it’d fall in line with the company’s ongoing marketing over its products like the iPhone and its Mac computers. During CES in Las Vegas in January, Apple put up a billboard promising “What happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone.”

Apple’s moves come at a time when privacy issues are squarely in the public debate. Governments are attempting to force, through potential legislation and court battles, access to encrypted messages on WhatsApp, Signal and other apps. They’ve argued, in effect, that privacy is not absolute. Meanwhile, Facebook’s poor handling of user data landed CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg in congressional hearings.

The debate has divided the tech industry as well. On one side are companies like Google and Facebook, which make almost all their money from tracking users and showing ads to them. On the other said are companies like Microsoft, whose CEO Satya Nadella says “privacy is a human right.”

Apple has gone up against Google and Facebook too. Last year, for example, the company said its Safari browser would prevent companies like Facebook from tracking users without their knowledge.

Apple CEO Tim Cook, in pushing on privacy issues, echoed Nadella’s sentiment when he spoke at Apple’s shareholder meeting last week.

“We’ve always viewed privacy as a human right,” Cook said. “And in this country, we view it that it’s ingrained in the Constitution.”

Originally published March 5, 2:32 p.m. PT.
Update, 3:47 p.m.: Includes more details.

5G and foldable phones go big at MWC 2019: With international intrigue and a 5G coming-out party, this show doesn’t need the boost of a Samsung event.

Galaxy S10 Plus review: No doubt about it, the Galaxy S10 Plus is going to be one of the best Android phones of 2019.

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apple

Apple is portraying itself as the defender of privacy in the tech world, but it’s one slip away from embarrassment

January 10, 2019

Analysis: Apple has continued to ratchet up its criticism of competitors in a bid to differentiate itself as the “most secure” tech company.
The move is a risky one, as Apple is exposed on several fronts to possible privacy and security leaks and breaches, putting it one step removed from a significant reputation dent that could further hurt sales.
Kate Fazzini

CNBC.com
Tim Cook, Chief Executive Officer of Apple Inc., takes a selfie with a customer and her iPhone as he visits the Apple Store in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., March 27, 2018.
John Gress | Reuters
Tim Cook, Chief Executive Officer of Apple Inc., takes a selfie with a customer and her iPhone as he visits the Apple Store in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., March 27, 2018.
Apple ramped up its efforts this week to differentiate its business on the basis of privacy and security, a risky move given risks to its cloud-based backup service and a challenging privacy environment globally, particularly in China, where the company says it is struggling.

Apple took a high-profile swipe at Google, Amazon and Facebook at this year’s Computer Electronics Show, with a full-building ad touting “What happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone.” CEO Tim Cook has criticized competitors for their privacy practices and their willingness to share data with third parties.

Apple is now also reportedly hiring ex-Facebook engineer Sandy Parakilas, who called Facebook a “living, breathing crime scene” because of its misuse by Russian hackers in the 2016 election. (Parakilas is reportedly taking an internal spot as a privacy product manager at Apple, a role not likely to include public-facing statements like these in the future).

For sure, Apple’s core business is different from Facebook’s and Google’s. Apple makes the bulk of its money selling iPhones and other computing devices, and charging consumer subscriptions for things like Apple Music. That means Apple has little reason to compile detailed information about users, and even less incentive to sell that information to third parties. But Facebook and Google make the vast majority of their money from advertising.

But putting such a big stake in privacy as a differentiator may be a risky business move.

First, Apple is just one iCloud breach away from an embarrassing incident that could damage its “what happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone” claims.

Scandals in the past years involving major celebrities who have had nude photographs stolen from their iCloud archives have been dangerously close. Apple has said these incidents involved username and password theft, giving criminals access to iCloud files through the celebrities’ password information, not a breached iCloud database.

But iCloud relies on the same cloud-based network architecture most companies rely on, including Amazon Web Services, Google’s cloud platform and Microsoft Azure. No database is impenetrable, and that includes those iCloud uses. A single instance of leaked data or an insider theft could put the company at serious reputational risk.

Third-party applications are also a potential sticking point. From a security point of view, Apple’s app store has stringent safeguards in place that make it more resilient to security issues like application spoofing than competitors such as Google’s Play store.

But independent iPhone apps still have the capacity to misuse data. The company routinely removes applications from the store for providing user information to unauthorized third parties. The New York Times reported earlier this year that numerous free iOS apps track detailed user information and provide it to third parties.

So Apple may also be one data-tracking scandal away from significantly denting the idea that data necessarily “stays on your iPhone.”

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Apple’s App Store Privacy Crackdown May Hurt Facebook’s Onavo

June 15, 2018

Apple Inc.’s new rules for app developers limit their ability to harvest user contact data, but they also could hurt a key app owned by Facebook Inc. called Onavo Protect.

The iPhone maker’s updated App Store Review Guidelines ban applications that “collect information about which other apps are installed on a user’s device for the purposes of analytics or advertising/marketing.” This could give Apple grounds to remove the Onavo app, although the software is still available despite the rules kicking in last week.

Onavo Protect, when installed on an iPhone or Android device, uses a virtual private network to scan incoming and outgoing internet connectivity. It also gathers information about users’ devices, their location, apps installed on the gadgets and how people use those apps, what websites they visit, and the amount of data used, Facebook wrote in answers to Congressional questions that the social network operator posted online Monday.

Onavo collects data on other apps via networks, rather than through devices. The iPhone maker already blocks apps from getting information from other apps on the device itself via a technology called sandboxing.

Apple’s new guidelines “sound like they’re almost written in response to what Onavo and others have been doing,” said Will Strafach, a researcher who has studied Onavo Protect and focuses on the security of Apple’s iOS mobile operating system. A Facebook spokeswoman declined to comment.

Apple has criticized Facebook this year for privacy missteps, and the iPhone maker recently announced new controls for iPhones, iPads and Macs that will limit how internet companies like Facebook and Google track web browsing.

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Senator Franken asks Apple for privacy guarantees around Face ID data

September 15, 2017

A friendly letter from Senator Al Franken (D-MN) to Apple requests that the latter provide a few more details on the tech behind its Face ID system, which allows users to unlock their iPhone X using facial recognition.

It’s very far from a nastygram; the Senator pretty clearly just wants to cover a bit more ground than Apple had time for in its presentation yesterday. He writes:

I am encouraged by the steps that Apple states it has taken to implement the system responsibly. However, substantial questions remain about how Face ID will impact iPhone users’ privacy and security, and whether the technology will perform equally well on different groups of people. To offer clarity to the millions of Americans who use your products, I ask that you provide more information on how the company has processed these issues internally, as well as any additional steps that it intends to take to protect its users.

Face ID, which uses a Kinect-like system to scan the user’s face and only lets a matching faceprint unlock the phone, is being treated with some skepticism in the tech community. An onstage flub during the iPhone event didn’t help, but there are some usability concerns (how do you unlock your phone while it’s on the table a couple of feet away? Surely not a PIN?) and privacy ones as well.

Of course, there were similar concerns when Apple debuted Touch ID’s fingerprint recognition — and sure enough, Sen. Franken wrote a letter then, too.

His letter today is well-informed as to the potential weaknesses of facial recognition systems. For example, he asks what the source was for the billion face images Apple touted as the training set for the system, since a lack of diversity there could lead to underrepresented groups being unable to use Face ID.

He also asks whether Apple has any plans to use faceprint data for any purpose other than Face ID, whether it’s possible for Apple or any interested third party to extract that data from the phone, and whether the data might be stored remotely.

Interestingly, he asks whether there are any protections against a person being forced to unlock the phone by someone else holding it up to their face. Kind of dark, Senator!

Lastly, he asks how Apple will respond to law enforcement requests for faceprint data. That’s a sticky issue right now considering the amount of pressure tech companies are under to identify users, respond to law enforcement requests and so on.

If Apple’s answers are anything like the answers it gave in its response to the 2013 letter, the gist will be that because the faceprint is stored in the Secure Enclave and therefore is inaccessible to Apple, its services or its partners, many of these questions will be moot.

For the remaining questions, however, I look forward to Apple’s responses and evasions, each of which will likely be illuminating in its own way. Apple is requested to respond to the Senator by October 13.

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