Apple protecting customer privacy from government requests

Apple CEO Tim Cook has reassured customers in an updated version of the company's privacy policy that only a small percentage of customer data is disclosed to government information requests, and the rest will remain protected.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor

Apple has published an updated version of its privacy policy, reassuring that its customers' privacy will continue to remain protected, even at the request of governments.

In a message to customers on the Apple website, CEO Tim Cook said: "I want to be absolutely clear that we have never worked with any government agency from any country to create a backdoor in any of our products or services. We have also never allowed access to our servers. And we never will."

In its updated privacy policy, Apple provides complete details on what information it collects and how the information is used. Some of the information the company collects includes names, mailing addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, contact preferences, and credit card information.

The policy also says that "it may be necessary — by law, legal process, litigation, and/or requests from public and governmental authorities within or outside your country of residence — for Apple to disclose your personal information".

"We may also disclose information about you if we determine that for purposes of national security, law enforcement, or other issues of public importance, disclosure is necessary or appropriate," Apple said, noting that government information requests "are a consequence of doing business in the digital age".

However, the company reassured that less than 0.00385 percent of its customers' data has been disclosed due to government information requests, and said it received fewer than 250 national security orders from the US government in the first six months of 2014.

The updated privacy policy comes in light of the release of some new features as part of the launch of the company's new operating system iOS 8 for the iPhone and iPad. Some of these new features include asking users for permission to allow the Apple store to access their location, even when they're not using the app and sharing user location information with third parties, as well as allowing advertisers to track and monitor a user's location.

"Unlike our competitors, Apple cannot bypass your passcode, and therefore cannot access this data. So it's not technically feasible for us to respond to government warrants for the extraction of this data from devices in their possession running iOS 8," Apple reassured, similar to a statement that the company posted in June 2013.

Last year, Apple, along with Google, Facebook, Twitter, AOL, Microsoft, Yahoo, and LinkedIn, formed an alliance called the Reform Government Surveillance group that called for changes to US surveillance practices and policy, arguing that existing operations undermined the freedom of people.

Former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden previously leaked information that suggested the NSA's PRISM system was "tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading US internet companies", including Apple, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft.

Apple has also activated a two-factor authentication process for iCloud access, after it was under scrutiny following last month's much-hyped online nude celebrity photo leak.

The two-factor authentication process requires the input of an additional dynamically generated four-digit passcode, sent to a user's trusted device, on top of login and password details.

Users are required to verify at least one SMS-capable phone number for their accounts in order to register a trusted device and use the security system.

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