Apple has always been serious about the privacy of its users. In 2016, it refused to unlock an iPhone for FBI. It even refused to develop a new unlocked version of iOS as it could potentially undermine the security of hundreds of millions of Apple users. Of late, the company has been in the news for privacy-related concerns. Recently, it was reported that some Siri recordings had been passed on to contractors working for the company around the world. Earlier this year, a FaceTime bug allowed the user to hear the audio of the person even before she answered the video call. While such instances are on the rise, the Cupertino giant maintains that it is committed to users' security and privacy.
Apple says that over many years of building processes for products, the company has learned that privacy is not a feature that you add at the end of the product development process. One needs to take it into account in the beginning itself. If you start designing the product with the user's privacy in mind, you make a different set of choices and a unique architecture that differs from other companies. Apple calls it 'privacy by design'.
A common concern among users is the trade-off between privacy and accessing free apps and good services. A recent example is the FaceApp that had access to data of millions of users. However, Apple has been building products that give consumers a choice to protect their privacy. Following are some innovative features that Apple will introduce with the upcoming software release for iPhones and Mac hardware:
Sign in with Apple
With every new website and app making it mandatory to sign in using your email ID, Apple has figured out a solution. With iOS 13, Apple is coming up with a new feature 'Sign in with Apple' that eliminates the need for filling up forms or creating new passwords. Apps can only ask users' name and email address. If a user prefers, Apple will create a unique email address that is shared with the app developer, helping the user keep their email private. In simple terms, instead of the user's actual email address, Apple will sit in between and send a random unique email to relay to the developer and will relay it back to the user. So, a developer will never get access to the user's actual email. Each app will get its own different, unique and random email. This also means developers won't be able to share or use emails to track a user across different applications or websites. Apple says even the company won't track the activity and users will be in control of their data.
We often don't realise, but our location history can share a lot of information about us. Location can be used to learn a tremendous amount of value - where you live and work, where you go out to drink or if you have been to the hospital and which part of the hospital. With your phone sending out information about where you are every few minutes, this kind of long history of location data can be used to build a detailed portrait of people's lives. Addressing this concern, Apple has added a layer of protection specifically around the location. New location controls and transparency features will allow users to have more control over their data. For example, instead of giving unlimited access to the location, the user can select the option 'allow just once' if a new app wants to access the location. The next time you open the app, it would request for the location again.
Apple's focus on location privacy has not gone down well with some developers. A group of app developers wrote to Apple CEO Tim Cook, arguing that the privacy-focussed changes will hurt their businesses.
The Privacy and Security option in Safari browser on iPhone allows you to prevent cross-site tracking, block all cookies, and enable warning for the fraudulent website. Safari even lets the user allow or deny camera, microphone, and location access.
While browsing the web on Safari, if you use the Smart Search field (the place where you type website URL on Safari), you will be sending out significantly lesser data to the search engine compared to common search engine interfaces. This is possible because Apple controls the top surface area and intentionally passes the absolute minimum data. Apple does not share precise location or cookies with the search engine.
According to Apple's guiding principles, the company prefers to process as much information as possible on the device itself so that only users can see it. Apple also protects the data on the iPhone using robust security features such as passcode encryption.