Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Privacy as a Product

Matthew Panzarino:

If you click your way through [Apple’s revised privacy page], you’re going to see a product that looks a lot like the pages that are attempting to sell you iPhones. There is a section that explains Apple’s philosophy; one that tells users in practical terms how to take advantage of Apple’s privacy-and security-related features; an entire section on government information requests; and, finally, its actual privacy policy. […]

This is the template for all other tech companies when it comes to informing users about their privacy. Not a page of dense jargon, and not a page of cutesy simplified language that doesn’t actually communicate the nuance of the thing. Instead, it’s a true product. A product whose aims are to inform and educate, just as Apple says its other products do.

I noticed this too, yesterday, when I was researching for a forthcoming article. The new privacy page is something only Apple can really do because nobody else is actually doing the things they are. But, as a marketing piece, it isn’t necessarily entirely forthcoming. Take the iMessage section:

Your iMessages and FaceTime calls are your business, not ours. Your communications are protected by end-to-end encryption across all your devices when you use iMessage and FaceTime, and with iOS and watchOS, your iMessages are also encrypted on your device in such a way that they can’t be accessed without your passcode. Apple has no way to decrypt iMessage and FaceTime data when it’s in transit between devices. So unlike other companies’ messaging services, Apple doesn’t scan your communications, and we wouldn’t be able to comply with a wiretap order even if we wanted to. While we do back up iMessage and SMS messages for your convenience using iCloud Backup, you can turn it off whenever you want.

And this excerpt from the iCloud section:

All your iCloud content like your photos, contacts, and reminders is encrypted when sent and, in most cases, when stored on our servers.

When read together — and, particularly, when combined with this support document — this gives the impression that iMessages backed up to iCloud will surely be encrypted, but they’re not. This is alluded to, though not stated explicitly, by the last sentence of the excerpt from the iMessage section above. Apple has done a much better job with this site than its competitors, and people are more likely to actually read it, but it doesn’t always seem to be fully forthcoming. At Apple, privacy is a product, but I don’t think it can entirely be marketed as such.

It’s not like their competition is any better though:

Does Google sell my personal information?

No. We do not sell your personal information.

We do use certain information, such as the searches you have done and your location, to make the ads we show more relevant and useful.

Translation: We do, but only in an intermediary fashion.