Dear Apple: Please give us a privacy-first Amazon Prime alternative

With 1.4 billion Apple devices in the wild and a strong record on privacy, Apple may be able to produce a better service package than Amazon.

Dear Apple: Please give us a  privacy-first Amazon Prime alternative
[Photo: courtesy of Apple]

This week, Apple showed us in broad stokes, a number of important new services at the Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino–News+, Arcade, Card, TV channels, TV+–but some of the most important details were vexingly absent. Those details were mainly about the price–not just the price of each service, but the bundled prices of many of them together.


I’m hoping that Apple’s intent was to give us just the first half of a two-part story at the event, and that the second half, focused on pricing, will be just as compelling as the services themselves.

If we find out later that Apple simply plans to sell services like News+ and TV+ and Apple Card on an à la carte basis, it will be missing a huge opportunity.

A far more interesting proposition involves Apple taking a page from Amazon Prime and putting together a variety of services into a super-bundle that users can opt to pay for in a yearly lump sum. Prime, which bundles together free digital services, free shipping, and other things, now has more than 100 million paying members. And yes, Amazon offers a branded credit card, too, which earns rewards when used to pay for Amazon goods and services.

Apple can use a similar model, a giant affinity group made up of people who happen to own Apple devices. That’s a big crowd–there are now 1.4 billion Apple devices out in the wild, including 900 million iPhones.

The sheer size of that (relatively affluent) group is one leverage point, but Apple can bring something else to the table that Amazon can’t deliver–a guarantee of data privacy.


Apple’s privacy product

We often think of Facebook and Google as the big players in a digital advertising business that’s fueled by personal data, and Amazon should be added to that group, too. The company is putting a lot of energy into growing its own advertising platform, and the business is gaining steam fast. Amazon can offer advertisers a mixture of targeting data that Google and Facebook can’t deliver–and that’s detailed data about the shopping and purchasing habits of millions of Amazon marketplace shoppers.

Then you have Apple, which loudly rejects the “surveillance economy” in favor of strict user privacy. Apple may be the only major tech company that can say, believably, that it won’t vacuum up and monetize your personal data.

So Apple can offer any one of a wide range of services that rely on varying degrees of sensitive information (financial, health, etc.) and put its privacy guarantee on all of it. Creative Strategies analyst Carolina Milanesi wisely pointed out that Apple pressed the data privacy guarantee bullet point for every single new service announced on Monday.

Is privacy really an important, saleable feature? You may look at the rich quarterly earnings and stock prices of companies like Google and Facebook and conclude that while people say they’re concerned about privacy, they remain more interested in free services. I think that’s changing, and will continue to change. I think Mark Zuckerberg is painfully aware of that, hence his recent proclamations.

A new model

Apple, too, must answer to Wall Street, but it’s never relied on data surveillance to do that. Google and Facebook services, more or less, are free, underwritten by massive personal data-fueled advertising businesses. The subtext of Apple’s announcement on Monday may be the offer of a more consumer-friendly and transparent way of paying for digital services. We pay for Apple’s services (bundled or not) with real money, but our privacy is left intact.


If Apple is promoting a new model of paying for digital stuff, it wouldn’t be the first time. Once upon a time, Apple, through iTunes, offered people a way to pay for legitimate (and safe) music files, rather than stealing potentially virus-filled ones. In the 2020s, people may decide they’d rather pay for good digital services with real money rather than with their privacy. Again, it would be a lot safer, and it might just feel better.

So I’m hoping that this fall, Apple will finish the announcement it started on Monday by announcing its own “Prime with Privacy” super-bundle. How does $199 per year sound?

Apple can’t offer every single service, song, newspaper, and credit card perk, but it could offer enough of them to be compelling. Just the convenience of rolling up all the separate digital subscriptions that tap our credit cards every month into one yearly payment under one trusted brand might be a value in itself.  If enough people sign up, the services gaps will likely take care of themselves over time.

For Apple, winning in the services business might not depend on the sheer number of services offered, but on the way it integrates and prices its services in attractive bundles.

About the author

Fast Company Senior Writer Mark Sullivan covers emerging technology, politics, artificial intelligence, large tech companies, and misinformation. An award-winning San Francisco-based journalist, Sullivan's work has appeared in Wired, Al Jazeera, CNN, ABC News, CNET, and many others.