We need to talk about how Apple is normalising surveillance

Source: Wired UK https://www.wired.co.uk/article/apple-surveillance-technology

Carissa Véliz


Apple has taken a public stand on privacy, curtailing data abuses by apps and declaring it doesn’t exploit its users’ information. But it has also created comprehensive new ways to track us.

Among tech giants, Apple stands out for its insistence on offering privacy features instead of joining its competitors in the exploitation of users’ personal data. Apple CEO Tim Cook recently clashed with Facebook on exactly those grounds – making a point, during a podcast interview, of defending privacy over the social network’s data-hungry ad-based model. When it comes to privacy, the maker of the iPhone is presenting itself as a good actor. But is that actually the case?

Apple recently rolled out a smorgasbord of new security features: Apple devices now block tracking pixels embedded in emails, tell users how many times an app has accessed sensitive data, utilise a relay to mask web traffic, and allow for the creation of unique email aliases. All of these are praiseworthy tools – long overdue – to protect our privacy.

What’s more, judging by its success as the world’s biggest company by market capitalisation, Apple is demonstrating that privacy can sell. About 94 per cent of American users opted out of data collection when Apple gave them the choice. Given its reach and clout, Apple has been able to do more for privacy in one software update than what most governments around the world have done in years (although it seems that some apps are still tracking non-consenting users). With a single decision, Apple can improve privacy standards globally. But, before we give it too much credit, we should take a critical look at the company’s general direction of travel.

Many of Apple’s latest features are about enhancing surveillance – even if Apple would never call them that. The new iPhone operating system, iOS 15, can digitise text in photos, enabling users to copy and paste text from an image, or call a phone number that appears in a picture. Scanning nearby buildings with an iPhone will make Maps recognise them and generate walking directions. Algorithms will identify objects in real-time video, and it will be possible to turn photos into 3D models for augmented reality. And users will now be able to carry their IDs in their phone. All of these features increase the amount of data collected.

Apple is also active in the lucrative business of healthcare. Using their iPhones and Apple Watches, people can track their steps, heart rate, and gait, among other things. A new sharing tab on the Health app even lets users share their health data with family and caregivers. Granted, all that data is supposed to be kept secure – but whenever sensitive information is collected and shared that easily, data disasters are just lurking around the corner.

Read more at: https://www.wired.co.uk/article/apple-surveillance-technology

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