Apple updates privacy policy pages, takes swings at data-guzzling rivals like Google

Apple outlines key differences between itself and personal data-hungry rivals.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer
Image: Apple
On numerous occasions over the past year Apple has highlighted key differences it sees between Google and itself in the way it's bringing personalisation to iOS without giving users the sense their privacy is being invaded or traded for advertising dollars.

With the release of new iPhones, iOS 9, Apple Watch, and the upcoming El Capitan OS X update, Apple has now refreshed its privacy policy pages, this time taking a few subtle stabs at Google and other rivals compared to last year's update, but also explaining how almost all of its products handle user data from Apple Pay to Maps, Health, and iCloud.

Apple Maps still don't match Google Maps, but Apple stresses its maps won't profile users for advertising. "Other companies try to build a profile about you using a complete history of everywhere you've been, usually because they're targeting you for advertisers," Apple said.

"Since our business doesn't depend on advertising, we have no interest in doing this -- and we couldn't even if we wanted to... You don't have to sign in to use Maps, and it only knows you by a random identifier that resets itself frequently as you use the app."

The thrust of the message is faithful to a speech Apple CEO Tim Cook delivered in June in which he accused some of Silicon Valley's most successful companies of having "built their businesses by lulling their customers into complacency about their personal information."

"They're gobbling up everything they can learn about you and trying to monetize it. We think that's wrong. And it's not the kind of company that Apple wants to be," he was quoted by TechCrunch as saying at the time.

The same goes for iMessage in the updated text: "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."

And iCloud: "Some companies mine your cloud data or email for personal information to serve you targeted ads. We don't."

"We know that the more personal your device becomes, the more critical it is to respect the data that's on it," said Apple.

For the new News service, which is currently limited to the US, Apple said it is using information about reading activity to improve the app, but "we don't link your reading activity to other Apple services".

"While News is ad supported -- ads are served based on the articles you read -- this information cannot be used to target ads to you outside the News app," it further explained.

The Washington Post, which previewed the new privacy pages before Apple published them on Tuesday, noted Apple has further clarified its thinking on encryption, following changes in iOS 8 that Apple said at the time made it "not technically feasible" to hand over data to law enforcement even under a warrant.

That passage has been removed and replaced with the following explanation:

"Encryption protects trillions of online transactions every day. Whether you're shopping or paying a bill, you're using encryption. It turns your data into indecipherable text that can only be read by the right key. We've been protecting your data for over a decade with SSL and TLS in Safari, FileVault on Mac, and encryption that's built into iOS," Apple notes.

"We also refuse to add a backdoor into any of our products because that undermines the protections we've built in. And we can't unlock your device for anyone because you hold the key -- your unique password. We're committed to using powerful encryption because you should know the data on your device and the information you share with others is protected."

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