In the age of hacking and surveillance capitalism, privacy has become one of Apple’s main products. The company has run several TV ads on the subject this year, but a new privacy ad, which will run Friday night during the World Series game, has a decidedly more serious tone than its predecessors.
In the new ad, the camera flies over a city at night while emo piano music plays. A dead-serious narrator explains that nothing is more personal than your personal data, and that much of it—from messages to your heart rate—is on your phone. At the end, the camera approaches and then enters the window of a woman sitting on her couch staring into her brand new iPhone 11 Pro Max.
“These are private things, the narrator intones. “Personal things. And they should belong to you. Simple as that.”
Apple began the year by posting a giant banner on a Las Vegas building during the CES gadget show in January proclaiming “What happens on your phone stays on your phone.”
The company has said loudly and often that it believes privacy is a “fundamental human right.” And it’s often pointed out that its business model—selling hardware at a healthy profit—doesn’t rely on the collection of personal data. Apple executives have been openly critical of Facebook and Google, which run advertising networks fueled by the personal data of users. In 2016, in its highest-stakes gambit in favor of privacy, Apple faced off against the FBI after the government went to court to demand that it help unlock the encrypted phone of Syed Rizwan Farook, one of two people who opened fire on a government office in San Bernardino, California in late 2015.
While Apple does insist that apps on its App Store be transparent with would-be users about the personal data they intend to collect—and has added additional privacy measures such as “Sign in with Apple” in iOS 13–the company is still a distributor of data collecting apps made by Facebook and Google. It also has a lucrative business deal that makes Google the default search engine in its Safari browser, giving that company access to the online activities of millions of iPhone users. Apple also recently apologized for holding on to snippets of audio of users using Siri, and letting contractors listen to them as part of its research process.
But even if Apple’s privacy-friendly moves have an element of salesmanship, the company has helped raise the public’s awareness of the threats to their data privacy. It’ll continue doing that when millions of people see its new ad in prime time tonight.