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Posts tagged with "Privacy"

Apple Tells CNET It’s Making Privacy Changes to AirTags and Has an Android App Coming Later This Year

CNET reports that Apple is adjusting the time within which they sound an alert when separated from their owners and adding ways to alert people when AirTags and third-party Find My network-enabled items are nearby.

Initially, AirTags were set to play a sound three days after they were separated from their owners. Now, the device will play a warning beep somewhere between 8 and 24 hours. Apple is also creating an Android app to allow owners of Android phones and devices to know if an AirTag or Find My network device is planted on them.

AirTags launched last month with numerous privacy protections baked into the device and related software, noting at the time that they expected to make adjustments along the way. With a few weeks of real-world use by customers and investigations by The Washington Post and others, today’s changes are a positive step toward ensuring that AirTags can only be used for their intended purpose: tracking belongings, not people.

The latest changes are being rolled out now and will be applied to AirTags when they are near an iPhone. Apple told CNET that it will have more details on the planned Android app later this year.

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Apple Releases New App Tracking Transparency Video

Apple has released a new video in its ongoing ‘Privacy. That’s iPhone’ campaign titled ‘Tracked.’ The latest spot starts with the lead character purchasing a coffee and then being followed around all day by a growing crowd of people that intrude on his privacy. Back home at the end of the day, the protagonist is prompted by his iPhone to ‘Ask App Not to Track’ or ‘Allow’ tracking, and as soon as ‘Ask App Not to Track’ is chosen, the mob of people crowding his apartment pop like balloons, disappearing in puffs of smoke.

Privacy isn’t an easy thing to depict visually, and no doubt, someone will take issue with aspects of the way the video portrays app trackers, but I enjoyed it. The video is entertaining, but it’s also useful to anyone who doesn’t realize how intrusive cross-app and website tracking can be.

This isn’t the first video released in the series. Late last month, Apple released ‘App Tracking Transparency’, which explains how the iOS 14.5 feature works. Earlier this year, the company also released ‘A Day In the Life of Your Data,’ a case study with real-world examples of what app trackers can do.



‘How Apple Designed AirTags to Be Privacy-First and Stalker-Proof’

Michael Grothaus at Fast Company interviewed Kaiann Drance, Apple’s vice president of worldwide iPhone product marketing and Ron Huang, a senior director of sensing and connectivity, about AirTags. The focus of the story is the privacy features built into AirTags, and it includes this interesting nugget not covered during Apple’s event on Tuesday:

AirTags also have a unique security feature called Pairing Lock, which protects against people who may find your lost item and snatch the AirTag from it to use as their own. Huang likens Pairing Lock to the iPhone’s Activation Lock. “It means that if you lose your AirTag, somebody can’t just pick up your AirTag, re-pair it with their phone, and continue using it,” he says. “This has been really impactful for the iPhone and we think it will be for AirTag as well.”

I’ve seen a lot of questions raised online about exactly how AirTags work and their privacy features, and this Fast Company story is a great place to start to learn more.

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Kara Swisher Interviews Apple CEO Cook for Sway

Apple CEO Tim Cook was interviewed on Sway, The New York Times’ podcast hosted by Kara Swisher, in an episode released today. Swisher asked Cook about a wide range of topics, including privacy, iOS 14.5, Parler’s removal from the App Store, autonomous vehicles, AR, its upcoming court case with Epic Games, and more.

On privacy and the reaction to App Tracking Transparency, Cook said he was shocked by the degree of pushback the feature has caused. Asked whether he thought ATT will harm businesses that rely on digital advertising, Cook said:

I think that you can do digital advertising and make money from digital advertising without tracking people when they don’t know they’re being tracked. And I think time will prove that out. I’ve heard this about other things we’ve done in the past that it’s almost existential and it wasn’t. I don’t buy that.

Regarding Parler’s removal from the App Store, Cook explained that can return to the App Store when they comply with its rules:

Well, in some ways, it was a straightforward decision, because they were not adhering to the guidelines of the App Store. You can’t be inciting violence or allow people to incite violence. You can’t allow hate speech and so forth. And they had moved from moderating to not being able to moderate. But we gave them a chance to cure that. And they were unable to do that or didn’t do that. And so we had to pull them off. Now, having said that, Kara, I hope that they come back on. Because we work hard to get people on the store, not to keep people off the store. And so, I’m hoping that they put in the moderation that’s required to be on the store and come back, because I think having more social networks out there is better than having less.

Cook also made the case that human curation on the App Store is a crucial element of the marketplace’s security model, rejecting the notion that users should be able to sideload apps and elaborating:

I think curation is important as a part of the App Store. In any given week, 100,000 applications come into the app review. 40,000 of them are rejected. Most of them are rejected because they don’t work or don’t work like they say that they work. You can imagine if curation went away, what would occur to the App Store in a very short amount of time.

Regarding new products, Cook wouldn’t confirm whether Apple is planning to offer augmented reality hardware or an autonomous car. Still, his excitement about those underlying technologies was evident, noting that AR, in particular, is critical to Apple’s future.

Also of note was Cook’s comment that iOS 14.5 is ‘just a few weeks’ away, which is longer than I expected and perhaps a sign that an April product event will occur.

The interview, which is just under 36 minutes long, touches on other topics, including Apple’s role in policy issues like voting rights, working with the US government, and Cook’s role as the first openly gay CEO of a Fortune 500 company. The episode is available in Apple Podcasts as well as third-party podcast players, and The New York Times has published a transcript of the entire interview.

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Apple Publishes ‘A Day in the Life of Your Data’ Case Study and Reveals That App Tracking Transparency is Coming in the Spring

Today is Data Privacy Day, and to mark the occasion, Apple has published a case study titled ‘A Day in the Life of Your Data.’ In the accompanying press release, Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of Software Engineering explains the company’s approach to privacy:

Privacy means peace of mind, it means security, and it means you are in the driver’s seat when it comes to your own data. Our goal is to create technology that keeps people’s information safe and protected. We believe privacy is a fundamental human right, and our teams work every day to embed it in everything we make.

Apple’s efforts to put its customers in control of their data are not new, but as they evolve and expand, so have tensions with other tech industry titans like Facebook. Part of the lastest tensions stems from the fact that as part of the next iOS and iPadOS beta, Apple will begin testing a system that alerts users when an app wants to share data it collects with other apps, websites, and companies. The most common way apps do this is with the Identifier for Advertisers or IDFA, a unique code that identifies your device.

Users can already go into the Privacy section of the Settings app to turn off IDFA-based tracking under ‘Tracking,’ but that requires people to know about the setting and find it. Apple’s new system is similar to other privacy flows throughout iOS in that it displays an alert when an app that wants to use tracking is launched, asking the user to grant it permission.

Facebook and others, whose advertising relies on aggregating data about users from multiple apps and websites and then tying it back to a specific individual, see this as a threat to their business models. Attempting to reframe the issue as one of economics, Facebook argues that the change will hurt small businesses who purchase targeted ads because those ads will no longer be as effective.

The new privacy feature, which Apple calls App Tracking Transparency, comes on the heels of the standardized privacy disclosures the company began requiring from developers with its Fall 2020 OS updates. For apps like Facebook, the disclosures are extensive, but to its credit, Facebook published its disclosures late last year, while Google still hasn’t.

Apple's App Store privacy labels make it clear to users that third-party Twitter clients collect far less data than the official app, for example.

Apple’s App Store privacy labels make it clear to users that third-party Twitter clients collect far less data than the official app, for example.

Apple’s case study is a day-in-the-life hypothetical that follows a father and daughter throughout their day together. The document is peppered with facts about tracking and data brokers, including a citation to a study that says the average app includes six trackers. Most useful, though, is the case study’s plain-English, practical examples of the kind of tracking that can occur as you go about a typical day’s activities using apps.

It’s impossible to create a case study that users who aren’t security experts will understand without glossing over details and nuances inherent to privacy and tracking. However, the study is extensively footnoted with citations to back up the statements it makes for those who want to learn more, which I think strikes the right balance. I’ve had tracking turned off on my devices since it was possible, and personally, I’m glad to see the feature is going to be surfaced for others who may not be aware of its existence.


Apple and Privacy in 2020: Wide-Reaching Updates with Minimal User Intrusion

Privacy has increasingly become a competitive advantage for Apple. The bulk of the company’s revenue comes from hardware sales, in stark contrast to competitors like Google who depend heavily on ad revenue and thus benefit tremendously from collecting user data. Apple calls privacy one of its core values, and the structure of its business makes it easier to hold true to that value. But that doesn’t mean its privacy work is easy or without cost – behind the huge number of privacy enhancements this year was surely significant effort and resources that could have been diverted elsewhere. The company’s privacy discourse isn’t empty marketing speak; it’s product-shaping. Not only that, but thanks to Apple’s enormous influence in tech, it can be industry-shaping too, forcing companies that otherwise may not prioritize user privacy to do business differently.

This year in its WWDC keynote, Apple dedicated an entire section of the presentation to privacy, detailing its latest efforts within the framework of what it calls its four privacy pillars:

  • On-device processing
  • Data minimization
  • Security protections
  • Transparency and control

Evidence of each of these pillars can be seen throughout much of what Apple announced during the rest of the keynote. On-device processing, for example, powers the new Translate app in iOS 14, HomeKit Secure Video’s face recognition feature, and more. New security protections have been implemented to warn you if a Keychain password’s been compromised, and to enable Sign In with Apple for existing in-app accounts, both of which make your accounts more secure. But the majority of this year’s most prominent privacy updates fell under the remaining two core pillars: data minimization and transparency and control.

Here are the privacy-focused changes you’ll see this fall across iOS and iPadOS 14 and macOS Big Sur.

Read more


John Giannandrea on the Broad Reach of Machine Learning in Apple’s Products

Today Samuel Axon at ArsTechnica published a new interview with two Apple executives: SVP of Machine Learning and AI Strategy John Giannandrea and VP of Product Marketing Bob Borchers. The interview is lengthy yet well worth reading, especially since it’s the most we’ve heard from Apple’s head of ML and AI since he departed Google to join the company in 2018.

Based on some of the things Giannandrea says in the interview, it sounds like he’s had a very busy two years. For example, when asked to list ways Apple has used machine learning in its recent software and products, Giannandrea lists a variety of things before ultimately indicating that it’s harder to name things that don’t use machine learning than ones that do.

There’s a whole bunch of new experiences that are powered by machine learning. And these are things like language translation, or on-device dictation, or our new features around health, like sleep and hand washing, and stuff we’ve released in the past around heart health and things like this. I think there are increasingly fewer and fewer places in iOS where we’re not using machine learning. It’s hard to find a part of the experience where you’re not doing some predictive [work].

One interesting tidbit mentioned by both Giannandrea and Borchers is that Apple’s increased dependence on machine learning hasn’t led to the company talking about ML non-stop. I’ve noticed this too – whereas a few years ago the company might have thrown out ‘machine learning’ countless times during a keynote presentation, these days it’s intentionally more careful and calculated in naming the term, and I think for good reason. As Giannandrea puts it, “I think that this is the future of the computing devices that we have, is that they be smart, and that, that smart sort of disappear.” Borchers expounds on that idea:

This is clearly our approach, with everything that we do, which is, ‘Let’s focus on what the benefit is, not how you got there.’ And in the best cases, it becomes automagic. It disappears… and you just focus on what happened, as opposed to how it happened.

The full interview covers subjects like Apple’s Neural Engine, Apple Silicon for Macs, the benefits of handling ML tasks on-device, and much more, including a fun story from Giannandrea’s early days at Apple. You can read it here.

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Craig Federighi on Apple’s New Privacy Initiatives

Michael Grothaus at Fast Company interviewed Craig Federighi on a subject that was prominent in yesterday’s WWDC keynote: privacy. The interview begins with Federighi sharing how Apple considers the extended long-term impact of its decisions in this area:

“We hope to build a lot of great products that bring customers a lot of joy every year,” he says. “But in the fullness of time, in the scope of hundreds of years from now, I think the place where I hope people can look back and talk about the places where Apple made a huge contribution to humanity is in helping people see the way of taking advantage of this great technology without the false tradeoff of giving up their privacy to do it.”

Grothaus highlights several new privacy features throughout his piece, all of which will arrive this fall in Apple’s new batch of software releases. One especially interesting feature is called Approximate Location:

With this option, an app will never know the precise spot you’re at. Instead, it will learn the general area, which is often enough to provide the same level of service without intruding on your privacy to the same degree. To achieve the “approximate location” feature, Apple divided the entire planet into regions roughly 10 square miles in size. Each region has its own name and boundaries, and the area of the region is not based on a radius from the user–it’s fixed. That means that an app can’t extrapolate your precise location from approximate location data, because you aren’t necessarily at the center point of that approximate location boundary.

In a packed, fast-moving keynote, it was noteworthy that Apple dedicated an entire segment of the presentation to privacy. The company ships new privacy features annually, and considering its stated focus on future centuries, it shows no signs of letting up any time soon.


You can also follow all of our WWDC coverage through our WWDC 2020 hub, or subscribe to the dedicated WWDC 2020 RSS feed.

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