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Apple’s data privacy changes are hypocritical - here's why
October 25, 2022
No company is going to argue with the statement that privacy is a fundamental right – or at least not out loud. Apple has shouted from the rooftops about its privacy protections – almost as if to distract from its own interests to use and monetize consumer data. With the digital advertising ecosystem built on data, it’s only natural that many experts are viewing the news that Apple may expand ads to new areas of the iPhone and iPad as antithetical to its privacy-first branding.
According to a report in Bloomberg, a number of factors point towards Apple expanding its advertising business, which is especially ironic, given that Steve Jobs in 2011 announced iCloud would have no ads. While Apple will argue that its App Tracking Transparency (ATT) is designed to prevent third-party apps from collecting users’ data without consent, it’s noticeably quiet about how much it’s benefiting from having privileged access to data while claiming that privacy is a core value.
Apple’s broken privacy promises
People have come to characterize Google and Facebook to be the ‘bad’ actors – no secret is made of the fact that the consumer is the product, despite their fervent protest. Yet as Apple shifts the goal line to maximize its own revenue, how is it any better than other technology giants who have built their businesses on data to fuel advertising? With Apple apparently building its own demand side platform (DSP), Apple user data is going to become a lot more valuable.
Apple zigged while other tech giants were forced to zag. It’s made a profitable business of pivoting its product and messaging for the consumer at the right time. But now even the so-called ‘moral compass’ of the tech world is walking back on its commitment to privacy rights front and center in their model – or at least, their advertising.
It’s not just consumers who will lose. There might not be much sympathy for the financial impact Apple is causing on other tech players – Meta was reported to have said that Apple’s iOS Do Not Track changes cost it $10bn – but it also creates an uneven playing field for smaller businesses. If the whole point of legislation and privacy changes is to rightly give consumers back some power over their own data, shouldn’t this be across the board and not just when it comes to Apple’s competitors?
Part of why we have bad web experiences now, along with sloppy consent banners to 'accept all cookies', is because a lot of companies know they aren’t selling a product or delivering an experience that would get consumers over a higher degree of friction required to get them to enthusiastically authenticate. Brands need to give more thought to what the value exchange between the brand and the customer needs to be in order to encourage opt-in and not hold them to ransom just because consumers have almost no other option.
Framing a federal privacy standard
The messy moves to protect consumer data is far from over. Privacy has become big business and there will be more changes coming. Apple is capitalizing on it, but others will soon follow. Still others will refuse to act and miss the boat altogether – or get caught in regulatory crosshairs with big fines and bigger brand trust impact. But for companies dealing with consumer data outside of the states that have currently passed privacy laws there’s still a choice for how they can respond, but it won’t be for much longer.
Just like Google or Facebook shouldn’t be the ones taking the lead on when privacy rights should be respected, neither should Apple. If we can adopt bipartisan legislation on climate change, we can make it stick for privacy. We should be collectively fostering an ecosystem that is set up to enable a good discussion between companies, privacy experts, government authorities, and regulatory bodies to ensure privacy works for all. It shouldn’t become a luxury item or one that can be sold to the highest bidder. Other brands also have a part to play to get their house in order to interact with customers more intelligently and serve them better regardless of the underlying motive. But one thing is for certain, when it comes to data, right now it’s become more of a PR and financial play than altruistic move, and Apple doesn’t fall far from the money tree.