"Privacy. That’s iPhone" - And Other Fairy Tales
Apple is great at marketing - we all know it. Today's newsletter is about Apple's ongoing marketing campaign that advertises iPhone as the epitome of privacy - and what it really means to your privacy.
In 2019, Apple launched the marketing campaign "Privacy. That’s iPhone." Apple CEO Tim Cook has repeatedly said that Apple believes privacy is a "fundamental human right," a statement it has been featuring prominently. Apple also testified to a U.S. Senate committee hearing, advocating support for federal privacy legislation. Apple's vice president of software technology said that "ultimately, privacy is about living in a world where you can trust that your decisions about how your personal information is shared and used are being respected." So far so good.
In April 2021, Apple launched its iOS 14.5 and the biggest update was making targeted advertising much more difficult. Jack Raines explained:
"Before 14.5, 3rd-party sites (read: Facebook and Google) could access your data through software development kits (SDKs) and application programming interfaces (APIs) embedded in different applications." (...) "Because Facebook and Google sign-ins were on pretty much every application, these sites had access through their APIs to a ton of consumer information. This information was then used by these sites to build a profile of "you", which would be used to share more relevant ads with you when you were on these sites."
In practice, before iOS 14.5, it was possible, but cumbersome to opt out of API tracking - the user would have to dig into layers of settings. After iOS 14.5, any time an app wants to access user personal data, the user will see the following pop up:
Now, only around 20% of users allow app tracking. Tracking is an important concern of privacy advocates, so this move by Apple looks like a genuinely concern with user privacy, right?
Well, not without an interesting twist. Remember that Apple is not a non-profit privacy organization. Apple is a company and it wants profit. In this case, its long-term privacy campaign and the iOS 14.5 (and following) privacy updates were a great idea to increase Apple's ad revenues.
Apple aims at showing more ads on iPhones. When Apple tracks a user, the killer pop up shown above does not appear to the user, as "the system 'does not follow you across apps and websites owned by other companies.' That’s what App Tracking Transparency (ATT) is designed to prevent. If a third-party app doesn’t track across outside apps and websites, it also doesn’t need to show a pop-up." So apple makes it difficult for others to track you, but it facilitates their own tracking. This is definitely a great shot:
In 2019 Apple made <500 million US$ in ad revenue.
In 2021, Apple made (estimated) 4 billion US$ in ad revenue.
Apple used the privacy narrative to make you buy iPhones and be proud of it - if you care about privacy. Then it used the iOS 14.5 update (and following) to hold the competition and finally grow their ad revenue. This is what a truly excellent marketing campaign looks like: good profit. Well done, Tim Cook!
As Nathan Baugh summarized:
There is a second aspect of Apple's storytelling that has not been spoken enough: normalizing surveillance. "Privacy. That’s iPhone" - really? Do I look like an idiot?
This article by The Critical Thinker summarizes issues such as the data collected by Apple, identifiers, the power of defaults (which I discussed in the previous newsletter) and why Apple is collecting your data despite being a hardware company. This other article, written by Albert Fox Cahn and Evan Selinger, highlights some of Apple's hypocrisies, as despite advertising privacy, it does not take sufficient safeguards to protect against government authoritarianism when dealing with police requests.
To sum up:
Smartphones are tracking devices that millions in the world choose to carry daily in their pockets. Privacy is here to help us protect our human dignity in a world of surveillance. Privacy should be taken seriously.
No, iPhone is not the epitome of privacy.
Apple's "privacy campaign" currently means good profit for them, as they grew their ad revenue from $ 500mi in 2019 to an estimated $ 4bi in 2021.
Apple is very good at marketing and storytelling
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See you next week. All the best, Luiza Jarovsky