Dec 1, 2018 - Technology

The Privacy Divide: You pay Google with data, Apple with cash

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Although the choice between iOS and Android may sometimes seem like a question of aesthetics, the reality is that the different business models of Apple and Google lead to fundamental differences for your privacy.

Why it matters: Because of the way Google monetizes user data, Android phones can cost hundreds of dollars less than iOS devices. The more you spend, the more likely you are to use a device with more privacy protection and less data collection.

Key differences:

  • iOS anonymizes much of the data sent back to Apple — although the company still collects a broad swath of information.
  • Apple markets privacy as a key feature of its products.
  • Android phones, by design, send a lot more data back to Google, including location and other sensitive information, much of which powers the company's vast ad-targeting network.

Between the lines: Even within the Android ecosystem, there's inequality. Because there are so many different Android-based products, the popular high-end devices are subjected to more rigorous testing by app developers. So low-cost devices may have more glitches.

By the numbers: Studies have shown that the more you earn, the more likely you are to own an iOS device.

  • A 2013 Pew study found that people with household incomes of $74,999 or less were more likely to say their phone was an Android device than an iPhone.
  • The opposite was true of people with incomes of $75,000 or higher.

The big picture: As business models evolve, privacy is more often seen as something you pay for. That’s a concerning trend for privacy advocates.

  • “I think many folks would say that runs the risk of marginalizing the poor,” said Allie Bohm of the public interest group Public Knowledge.
  • Internet service providers experimented with so-called pay-for-privacy plans, where you get a discount if you agree to data collection, but later pulled back on those efforts.

The bottom line: Google isn’t interested in changing its data-driven business model. It does lead to more affordable devices, but those savings can come at a cost to privacy.

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