Is Apple Becoming the Leading Guardian of Privacy?


In response to the growing concern about consumer data protection and privacy, Apple has taken the lead in actively protecting their customer's personal information. The company's CEO has made clear in no uncertain terms that Apple will not treat its customers as a product.

“[Apple] could make a ton of money if our customer was our product. We’ve elected not to do that. You are not our product, you are our customer, you are a jewel,” Tim Cook recently stated. And the company seriously means it when they say they're protecting data. As digital privacy scholar Babette Boliek writes, the company has even gone as far as booting some apps off the App Store that violate the company's data-sharing policies.

In a recent move, some apps apparently have been booted from the App Store for selling location data without the direct consent of the app user. A few App Store review guidelines (the rules Apple imposes on any would-be developer of an iOS app) may have been violated. Here are a couple guidelines likely at issue:

5.1.2 Data Use and Sharing

You may not use or transmit someone’s personal data without first obtaining their permission and providing access to information about how and where the data will be used.

Data collected from apps may not be used or shared with third parties for purposes unrelated to improving the user experience or software/hardware performance connected to the app’s functionality, or to serve advertising in compliance with the Apple Developer Program License Agreement.

5.1.5 Location Services

Ensure that you notify and obtain consent before collecting, transmitting, or using location data.

These types of guidelines may be due to the EU's upcoming privacy standards, but whatever the motivation, one can't deny that Apple is taking consumer privacy seriously. These privacy policies offer consumers some great features, in Boliek's opinion, including ease of understanding, and Apple's status as a large company with leverage.

Apple is protecting not its own data but the data of its users. From a contract law perspective, you would say that the app users are the third-party beneficiaries of Apple’s guidelines and enforcement practices. As the access point for app developers, Apple of course wields a big stick to demand compliance — something difficult for an atomized consumer base to achieve. Indeed, Apple is in an enviable position to protect consumer privacy, data transfers, and data collection by apps.

While this may be one of its advantages, it could also be a drawback to some extent. Having a tight-fisted control on the app store may stifle some innovation in the long-term, and some may claim that Apple is pushing out apps and programs that compete with its own products.

However, the good news, as Boliek concludes, is that consumers do have the option of choosing Android products if they want more innovative places.

Google has just recently begun to update its privacy rules to be more understandable (matching US compliance rules to Europe's new General Data Protection Regulation). It also made it easier for users to review their security, privacy and ad settings to have more control over location history, web and app activity and YouTube search history as well as to browse and delete past online activity and do a security or privacy checkup.

Competition is coming along, but Apple is taking the tone to market itself as the guardian of users' privacy. Will it work on you?

Which do you prefer: Apple or Google?