Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Apple’s Latest Product Is Privacy

Walt Mossberg, Recode:

Apple is clear in its belief that users are better off if personal data is stored locally as much as possible. The company makes settings for enhancing privacy relatively clear and easy for its customers. And some of this week’s new product demos were designed to show that local device data, like cloud data, can provide rich, helpful intelligence.

Yet Apple’s case isn’t impregnable. And it’s able to use privacy as a marketing point at least in part because that stance happens to fit its business model, and is harder to reconcile with Google’s.

Mossberg, to my eye, has this backwards: it’s not that higher privacy happens to fit Apple’s business model, but rather that their business model deliberately avoids violating or bending your expectations of privacy.

But I also think that I think I got this tradeoff between privacy and features all wrong. I was under the impression that the reason Google’s services work so well is because they have a consolidated privacy policy that allows them to blend data from almost every service they offer into one giant privacy-invading smoothie. They can then compare disparate pieces of data to try to determine what’s relevant to you now, and what can be done with that information.

Proactive search in iOS 9 demonstrates that it isn’t necessary to do that processing in the cloud, nor is it necessary to scoop up a ton of data to make these features work. If you get an email with a hotel booking, for example, it will suggest that booking in the calendar. This functionality does require scanning on-device email messages, but it doesn’t seem to leave the device, as far as I can tell. And because Apple’s business model doesn’t require them to know this kind of information, they really don’t care about it. What they do collect and store in the cloud is siloed.