Is Apple Using Your Privacy Without Your Consent?
Apple Faces Privacy Lawsuit
In today’s trending tech news, Apple is facing challenging privacy lawsuits on a global level. In Europe, the privacy protection group, NOYB or None of Your Business, has filed lawsuits accusing Apple of stealing customers’ digital data. On Monday, November 17, 2020, the group asked the GDPR data protection authorities to explain Apple’s tracking codes’ legitimacy. IPhones produce a code called IDFA or Identifier for Advertisers. This code is much like the way websites track users via cookies. The problem presented by NOYB is that every iPhone iOS operating system produces a unique code for the phone. This code allows both Apple and other third parties to “identify users across applications and even connect online and mobile behavior.”
According to GDPR or General Data Protection Regulations, the standard privacy law throughout Europe, tracking is only allowed when a user explicitly consents to the monitoring. In this case, the built-in technology is tracking users and selling their data, including location data, without the user’s consent. Apple responded by stating that the claims were “factually inaccurate.”
According to Apple, “Our aim is always to protect the privacy of our users.” Apple lays claims that its latest software versions give users greater control over data sharing. It allows the user to decide if their information can be shared with third parties… “for the purpose of advertising, or sharing their information with data brokers.”
Apple Wants in the Privacy Business
Apple is giving consumers the impression that they are all about their privacy. In fact, the company is making strides in moving some of their business into the privacy sector. The company is pushing the idea that over all other tech companies in the marketplace – Apple is the one consumers can trust.
CEO Tim Cook commented on privacy applications in an op-ed penned for Time magazine. “It’s time to stand up for the right to privacy — yours, mine, all of ours. Consumers shouldn’t have to tolerate another year of companies irresponsibly amassing huge user profiles, data breaches that seem out of control, and the vanishing ability to control our own digital lives.”
It’s a case of noting what a company does and not what they say about their actions. Apple wants customers to trust their data to them and gives off the impression that they are trustworthy companies to invest in, be it through purchases of product or stocks. The truth is something different. A Wall Street Journal investigation spoke openly about the reality of Apple and privacy. It found that there were 79 apps available and featured on Apple’s app store that sells out the consumer. These apps all use third-party data trackers that sell consumer data. These apps have no warning label and do not clearly communicate to the consumer that their data will be tracked or offer an option to turn this feature off. Watch what they do – not what they say.
No Secrets are Safe
Apple has a saying, “What happens on your iPhone stays on your iPhone.” However, when the Washington Post tested this theory, they found 5,400 hidden app trackers that sucked up their data for third parties in less than a week. While Apple wants to portray to consumers that they have their back, the truth is that no secrets are safe.
Despite that, Apple attempts to fall back on the excuse that their business model is different from other tech companies like Google or Facebook; it just doesn’t fly. Apple pushes back on privacy discussions by stating that they sell hardware, which is far different from other tech companies who profit from data. If this is all so true, why is it that in late 2019 Apple was sued for selling customer data on the music they download and enjoy. Any third company could buy a list of music preferences and the customer’s home address for $136 per 1000 customers.
Even though Apple pushes back and declares itself a tech company that cares about privacy, the lawsuit was quite clear in its filings. It states that Apple had been “intentionally and unlawfully” selling users’ iTunes habits and other data. This data included their names and addresses, personally identifiable information without the consent of its users. This data was sold to iOS app developers and other third-party companies to increase company revenue and profits.
When you first purchased your phone, you are sure you went through all the known privacy features and set them accordingly. If you value your privacy, most likely, you turned off access to your data. So how is it when you get into your vehicle, your phone automatically knows you are heading to work? Or when you leave work, it instantly knows the way to the gym? It can be confusing, and to some, a bit alarming, especially if you know, you turned off location services. Did you realize that buried deep in your iPhone is a separate application called “Significant Locations?”
Want to know what data your phone is collecting and sending out about you? It is possible to pull up the list of data points that your phone has collected and reviewed it. Don’t say you weren’t warned – the amount of data will shock you.
- Open your SETTINGS on your iPhone.
- Tap on PRIVACY.
- Select LOCATION SERVICES.
- Go further by tapping SYSTEM SERVICES.
- Look down the list until you see SIGNIFICANT LOCATIONS.
- Now, it will ask you to enter your password.
Funny how it asks you to enter a password to view your own personal data, but it is ok to sell it to others without your consent, isn’t it? Once you enter your password, a list of locations will pop up. You will most likely recognize these as places that you frequent often. Some may be a little off, as GPS is not always perfect, but you will note that you were somewhere in that vicinity when the data was collected. It is also possible to contact Apple and request that they send you all the data they have collected on you. Many tech companies now allow users to access their collected data as well as terminate their collection. With Apple, you have to go after it.
Don’t want to be tracked at all? If you look to the top of the page that lists city locations – just hit the green button.
Digital Data for Sale
Though Apple states that your data is entirely private, why does it say on page 20 of the iOS that there are at least 20 different ways your phone is tracking you? Who needs all this data, and what is done with it? Apple used the data to show you location-based Apple ads, which change depending on where you and your phone are located. It also will give relevant ads to places you have used your Apple-pay account when you are in the area of one of their stores. While Apple claims that all your data is encrypted between you and your cloud services, how does that explain that Apple was offering customer data for sale? The lawsuit that accused Apple of selling iTunes data was dropped. Does that mean that they don’t or stopped using data for third party applications? You can find out for yourself what type of info that Apple has stored about you.
- First, go to Apple’s Apple ID Management Page.
- Scroll down until you find Data & Privacy.
- Once there, click on Manage Your Data and Privacy.
- Sign in to your Apple ID.
- Go to Get a Copy of Your Data.
- Click Get Started.
- Select the data categories you want to be sent to you – or Select All.
- Click on Continue.
- Next, choose the file size you would like. Apple will divide your data into a file size that is easy for you to handle.
- Now, wait. It can take up to seven business days for Apple to send the data back to you. They use this time to verify that the request came from you.
According to Apple, you can expect only a limited amount of data returned. They insist that they are in the hardware business, and any data collected is simply to provide ease of use, better phone service, and other quality applications. If you also request your data from Facebook or Google, you will see an incredible difference in the data collected about you. When you receive your report, this is the type of data you can expect to have returned to you from Apple.
- Your Apple ID – that will include your account details and sign-in records.
- Data that you store with iCloud. This can include contacts, calendars, notes, bookmarks, reminders, email, photos, videos, and documents.
- App usage information – but only related to iCloud, Apple Music, Game Center, and other services.
- Purchase Receipts. This includes records of the items you have purchased or downloaded from the App Store, iTunes Store, and Apple Books. It will also include your browsing history in those stores.
- Apple Receipts. This is a separate accounting of your Apple retail store records and supports transactions.
- Data communication records of marketing communications, preferences, and other activities.
It is a good idea to compare the data collected about you from various tech companies. It will give you a better sense of what information is being tracked. Hopefully, this will allow you to make positive personal decisions about which tech companies you use, how you set your privacy management, and how you use technology. While most of the data listed above by Apple as information collected may seem fair, you may be forgetting one thing. For example, Apple collects data you store on iCloud that can include images. What metadata have you given them in the background? Metadata from images can store GPS location, date, user, and a variety of other information. You can learn more about Metadata from CaseGuard.
In the end – it’s you. You are in charge of the data you allow to be collected about you. You can limit or put a stop to it completely. How you use technology should line up with your personal values. Don’t get taken advantage of – take charge of your data history!