The Week in Tech: Apple Goes on the Attack

Apple’s business model relies on people buying more iPhones, iPads, Apple Watches and other gadgets, many of which don’t need much user data to work well. Google, Facebook and increasingly Amazon, however, have prodigious advertising businesses that rely on building detailed profiles of what people read, buy and like.

In his speech, Mr. Cook endorsed “a comprehensive federal privacy law in the United States,” which could help undercut the businesses of Apple’s rivals.

Software made by Google and Apple, for instance, backs nearly all of the world’s smartphones. Apple built such a strong smartphone business by offering sleek, high-end devices that — as Apple has increasingly advertised lately — value your privacy.

Google has captured most of the global market, particularly in the developing world, by giving its software away to phone makers. In return, Google has historically forced them to put its free services front and center on devices. That prompts people to conduct more Google searches, watch more YouTube videos and ask for more directions on Google Maps — all activities that allow Google to collect more personal data and serve more personalized ads.

Mr. Cook and Apple clearly don’t like that approach. But the market proves that plenty of people would rather opt for a cheap Android phone — essentially paying with their personal data and dealing with more ads — than splurge on an iPhone. (The cheapest new iPhone is $750.)

Other technologists, such as Alex Stamos, Facebook’s former security chief, called Mr. Cook hypocritical for trumpeting the importance of privacy when Apple is so deeply intertwined in China.

Apple recently began storing its Chinese users’ data on servers in China run by a state-owned company. Apple has said it, not its Chinese partner, retains the encryption keys for that data, but the company regularly complies with lawful data requests from governments around the world. In the last six months of 2017, Apple said, it provided data from about 580 accounts to the Chinese government, compared with about 5,905 to the American government.

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