Apple is known for many things, but ranking near the top are both its commitment to user privacy and its (sometimes) iconic ad campaigns. The latest news from the company melds the two beautifully.
In a new 90-second spot called “Data Auction,” Apple’s full creativity is on display. But the ad also does a terrific job of informing viewers—and, most likely, frightening many of them—about how their personal data is traded by powerful data brokers all day long.
The new campaign from Apple is rather timely as well. The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) just published a report on real-time bidding, the process brokers and advertisers use to track you and sell your data. The ICCL’s report reveals that “a person in the U.S. has their online activity and location exposed 747 times every day,” and that in total, U.S. internet users will see their location and online behavior data “tracked and shared 107 trillion times” each year.
While Apple’s new privacy ad isn’t tied specifically to the ICCL’s new report, it helps visualize just how this mass tracking occurs—with each revelation in the ad also representing an Apple feature that helps prevent the data tracking industry from using its tricks to snoop on you.
The ad follows a young woman, Ellie, as she stumbles into a Sotheby’s-style physical manifestation of a data brokers’ auction that’s putting her data up for sale to the highest bidder. The auction starts with her personal emails, then progresses to her drug store purchase history and her location data (the auctioneer proclaims, “It’s not creepy! It’s commerce!”).
Next up are her contacts, recent transactions, browsing history, and her late-night texting habits. As the auctioneer is about to sell another piece of her data, Ellie pulls out her iPhone and uses Apple’s App Tracking Transparency and Mail Privacy Protection features to stop any more of her data from being sold. The ad ends with the tag: “It’s your data. iPhone helps keep it that way.”
The spot does more than merely spotlight the App Tracking Transparency and Mail Privacy Protection features Apple has most recently rolled out. Every bit of Ellie’s data that is auctioned off in the ad has a corresponding privacy-preserving iPhone feature. The auction proceeds so rapidly—without explicitly mentioning most of the relevant features—that it feels like it’s packed with Easter eggs. Here’s a cheat sheet:
- 0:33: Ellie’s drug store purchases are protected with Apple Pay, which doesn’t track Ellie’s purchase history.
- 0:44: Her location data is protected with iOS’s myriad privacy-preserving location features.
- 0:48: Her contact data is protected with iOS’s permissions features, and even when she shares her contacts with an app, any notes in the contact will not be shared.
- 0:56: Her browser history is protected by Safari’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention.
- 0:58: Her texts are protected because texts sent through Apple’s Messages app are end-to-end encrypted.
But as good as the ad is, there’s no such thing as perfect privacy. The ad shows what Apple’s already done, but there are lots of things Apple can still do to help users better secure and keep their personal data private. With the company’s Worldwide Developers Conference less than three weeks away, we won’t have long to wait to see what Apple has planned next to keep even more of our data private from the companies and institutions that make billions mining it.