Apple has to get over its privacy hang-ups and launch better services

Eric Jackson, CNBC:

Apple announced recently that it had hired two big Sony TV executives to head up Apple’s original video strategy. It’s the strongest signal yet that Apple has grand plans to offer its own slate of original video content to compete with the likes of Netflix, Amazon and HBO.

Yet as Apple brings more high-quality content to its users, it’s likely to highlight a growing dilemma: Is it going to start offering better services to users with less privacy, or continue offering inferior services with strong privacy?

The title is provocative and, I think, needlessly so. I believe Apple is protecting our privacy, sees that as a fundamental principle. But Eric does make some interesting points, worth reading:

On Ben Thompson’s Exponent podcast from two weeks back — “Fruitful Clapping” — he discusses how Siri stops using your utterances/voice queries after 6 months. That’s problematic to improve Siri’s algorithm. You can’t compare utterances today to utterances a year ago.

And:

Spotify knows what music you like better than you do.

Apple Music gives you the world but doesn’t have that same magical insight into you — but you have better privacy.

And:

Google Photos organizes my photos magically in the background. It delights me that it’s somehow able to recognize my child from ages one to 15 as the same person through facial recognition software. It now has 500 million monthly active users — presumably many on iOS.

Apple’s Photos app makes me tag hundreds of photos of the same person to group them instead of recognizing them. The reason is Apple is doing facial recognition on the device instead of in the server.

These are all excellent points. But don’t dismiss Apple’s privacy protections as hangups. The malware haunting Windows and Android, the exploits based on backdoors that Apple protects against, are all part of the reason I appreciate Apple’s commitment to privacy. This is not a hangup.

But the question here is, where does privacy end and personalization begin? Can Siri know me, know my habits intimately, read and parse all my email, accumulate my personal preferences/habits/even peccadillos, all without breaking my privacy?

To me, that’s the core of the issue. If Apple can do that without selling that information to advertisers, employers, and insurance companies, I’m OK with that.

But where there’s accumulated data, there’s privacy danger. What if some black hat hacks Apple’s servers and uses that information to my detriment? What if an activist investor took over Apple and brought in their own management team, forced them to change their privacy policies?

Good food for thought. Personally, I like that Apple is stepping carefully here. That privacy hangup is one I can live with.

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