If there’s one tech giant that touts its privacy benefits more than any other, it’s Apple. Over the past several years, as other companies have been rocked by controversies relating to how they defend your data, Apple hasn’t just avoided scandal. It’s continued to bring new privacy protections to its customers. I’ve argued that privacy is as important a “product” to the company as the iPhone is.
iOS 12 and MacOS Mojave, released last month, bring a ton of new on-device privacy protections to the iPhone, iPad, and Mac. But instead of calling it a wrap for 2018, Apple is launching an updated privacy site that brings European-like data transparency tools to all users in the U.S.
In May, the European Union’s sweeping new privacy regulations built to protect users and their data went into effect. Called the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, the new rules mandate that technology companies give users more control over how their data is used, improve the safeguards of user data, and give users an easy way to request and access all the data a company has about them.
In Europe, GDPR compliance is the law and any tech company that does not comply can face incredibly high penalties. But the law does nothing to offer Americans enhanced privacy protections and data controls. Which is why Facebook placed 1.5 billion international users on a figurative boat and shipped them to America so they weren’t covered by GDPR rules.
But though American lawmakers haven’t taken the steps to enact GDPR-like legislation on this side of the Atlantic, some tech companies have stepped up and implemented some of the benefits of the legislation over here. Earlier this year, Google, Facebook, and Instagram either rolled out or improved upon tools that allow users to request all the information the companies have about them. Apple introduced a similar data transparency tool for EU users in May, but American users were left out in the cold (though they could email Apple and request their information).
Apple did, however, promise that its new transparency feature would become available to Americans later in the year–and now it’s here.
Seeing your stuff
Apple’s new Data and Privacy tool allows U.S.-based users to see exactly what information Apple holds about them. This includes information like payment details; contacts and calendar events; purchase history through Apple.com, the iTunes Store, the App Store, and the iBooks Store; and more.
To access the new tool, navigate to apple.com/privacy and then click on the “Manage Your Privacy” link in the upper toolbar. On that page, scroll down to the heading “Take charge of your data” and click the “Visit your Data and Privacy page” link. There you will find the new data and privacy portal that you can sign in to to request everything the company holds on you.
Once you submit a request for your data, Apple’s software will run security verification checks to make sure it is, in fact, you requesting your data. Once those checks come back positive, it will email a zip file containing all the data the company holds on you.
What’s remarkable to European users I’ve spoken with who have previously requested their data from Apple is just how little information the company retains compared to other tech giants such as Facebook and Google. Where each of those companies holds tens of gigabytes on the average user, Apple’s equivalent is measured in megabytes.
This speaks to the fact that Apple has very strict data minimization and data use limitation policies for its users in place. And the company can afford these user privacy protections, because its business model–selling hardware–doesn’t rely on amassing troves of data about you such as your browsing history, where you checked in for lunch, or the television shows you like. For other tech companies that operate on advertising models, such information is priceless.
Check out Apple’s redesigned privacy site
While Apple’s initiative to bring greater data transparency to U.S. users is welcome, most people will probably get little benefit from requesting to see the data Apple holds on them–unless you count the sigh of relief when they see how little there is.
But we live in an age where digital privacy is quickly becoming one of the most important issues of this generation. That necessitates that we all do a better job at educating ourselves and our families about the importance of data protection and online privacy.
That’s why I recommend that every Apple customer take the time to check out the company’s new privacy pages. Educating yourself about how your data is collected, what is retained, and the tools you have to manage it will help you make more informed choices about maintaining your privacy in the future. This isn’t something only Apple users should do. Users of Google’s products should inform themselves of their privacy and data policies (which include Android as well), and users of Facebook and Instagram should educate themselves on the same.
Most Apple users I’ve talked to have little knowledge of the scores of privacy and data protections and tools built into the latest iOS and MacOS releases. There are simply too many to cover here, but they’re all thoroughly detailed on Apple’s redesigned privacy pages.
Apple’s privacy work in 2018 isn’t over yet. Next week, CEO Tim Cook will head to Brussels, where he will keynote the 2018 International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners. It’s the first time that a CEO will be a keynote speaker at Europe’s preeminent privacy regulators conference. And just last week, Apple filed a seven-page brief with the Australian Parliament arguing in favor of increasingly strong encryption technologies that further protect user privacy–something the governments of many countries around the world want to weaken.