June 1, 2016

Apple, Privacy & Security- A PR Conundrum

Hey Apple! The moment my data is used, my privacy & security goes astray…

APolarizing debate will invariably emerge whenever there is a discussion around the legal contest between Apple & FBI over data privacy & security. Without fail, two camps will surface and contend over this controversial question — "In this digital age, is privacy real? OR simply a fantasy construct that we all cling to?"

Amongst the difference of opinions are some who think this is a publicity stunt — scoffing at the notion that Apple would sincerely be worried about the privacy & security of their consumers. It is more likely, feigning concern is simply a nefarious ploy by the innovative product manufacturer. Defying the FBI was a business differentiator and an ingenious branding move. As they say, "there's no such thing as bad publicity".

Starting with Steve Jobs, Apple pioneered a way to individualize its brand and has historically positioned itself as the leader who didn't follow the pack, and created a backing of fanboys who think it is cool to own Apple products.

Apple considers Google, Facebook and Samsung as credible competition. These three companies are built on platforms and business models around data collection, marketing, ads & technology. Once again, Apple has trail blazed a path to distinguish itself by defying the government and proclaiming the sacristy of safeguarding the privacy & security of their consumers. This has surely resonated and bolstered loyalty among its fanboys and the consumer population too.

Apple, like its competition, does collect Personally Identifiable Information (PII) about its consumers. It can be frightening to discover what kinds of data these companies gather from their consumers. Starting with basic qualifiers such as age, address, email, marital status, income, credit worthiness, etc., to more private data like location, consumer habits, preferences and usage are also collected. How exactly can this be considered NOT private?

Apple and some others have dubiously placated their consumers by suggesting that they are not interested in personal data on an individual basis. Yet, it is illogical to think that a company could provide a truly personalized consumer experience without individualized data. Whether or not an individual's digital identity can be deemed "anonymous" by grouping it among millions of other profiles that are similar, two controversial facts remain: that an individual profile was created (or can be created), and it was gathered singularly in the first place. How can this be Private by any definition? Are we to believe that singularly collected data from an individual then grouped into a demographic numbering in the millions could not later be reduced into "more personal" customer experiences? The process can always be reversed easily when needed — as time has taught us, no technology is secure, especially technology involving priceless personal data.

In addition to the notorious Apple vs. the Federal Government standoff, there have been many other publicized trials within the recent year as well, scandals involving celebrity Facebook accounts being breached or iCloud accounts being hacked. After all, data is priceless. During the circus around the trial, there were rumors that the FBI paid a company, $1500 to jailbreak the suspect's iPhone and access all data on that iPhone. The founder of McAfee stated that an iPhone could be hacked in less than 30 minutes to 3 weeks. On top of it, Apple did not know how the FBI took data from the phone and demanded that FBI disclose the method. That doesn't sound very secure, Apple!

What assurances does a consumer have that their data is safe from monetization? Label it a profile, or a digital identity, most companies (including Apple) profit from using (or selling) the singular/consolidated data collected. The currency we exchange for most of free services, be it Apple, Facebook, Google, WhatsApp, Snapchat or any other may not be cash money, but something else more valuable — our personal data/information.

With respect to this modern technology arena, both Privacy and Security are abstract constructs together forming a quagmire. One cannot be given up without presenting a threat to the other. Neither Privacy nor Security will exist in this digital modern world where today even your air-conditioner, refrigerator and car are collecting your data. Sorry Apple, once data is stored on device or at the network — the moment the data is used, consumer privacy goes astray.

Here are some thought provoking aspects for people to think about Apple, Privacy & Security:

  • Data is Data— whether it is collected by the Government, Apple, Google or a single app — you lose your privacy/security whether that data is stored on the device or in the network. Someone has access to it and can make decisions upon them. Today, your private data is collected by Apple from you and from your iPhone.
  • If you are connected to the cellular network or WiFi (home or work) — Your service provider knows the exact status of where you are, which servers you are connected to, your browsing activities, or even know if you drove from point A to point B. It doesn't matter if Apple says it's secure — your data is still collected and used by others in the food chain.
  • For most of their products/services, where Apple is doing targeted ads on you as a consumer — your privacy is already taken away. Most Apple products/services that use ads are personalized ads based on data about you. They build a profile about you and Apple having its own ad network does not need to sell this data to others — rather use it for themselves.
  • For most of their products/services, where Apple is doing targeted ads on you as a consumer — your privacy is already taken away. Most Apple products/services that use ads are personalized ads based on data about you. They build a profile about you and Apple having its own ad network does not need to sell this data to others — rather use it for themselves.
  • When a consumer buys an apple device — Apple gets data from users for the iCloud/iTunes accounts — and they do use it to market products/services to the consumers. Why talk about privacy? When you use consumer data to market to the consumer? (* Apple would refute this stating that the consumer accepts the privacy policy — but how many of the consumers read through the terms & conditions or privacy statements that are so legal *)
  • Apple gets paid for having a Google Search Bar on its devices — and Google collects consumer data and makes money out of it? — AND Apple can say that they don't collect data but Google does.
  • If Apple really wants Privacy & Security in its OS — why does Apple provide an SDK that allows access to user data on device? AND look at how much money Apple makes out of its app store.
  • The Apple iCloud was hacked and data stolen in June 2015 — what makes one think that you are secure in the hands of apple again?
  • Does Apple really have a secure OS that it is bragging about?? OR is it just trying to protect its branding that its devices are secure?

Two More Aspects to Consider.