Apple, Facebook, and Google are all firmly on the record now: They agree that privacy is a good thing, that government should protect it, and that you can trust them to respect it.
But, as Axios' Scott Rosenberg reports, each company defines privacy differently and emphasizes different trade-offs in delivering it.
For Apple, privacy is primarily about keeping your personal data between you and your device.
- Apple was making its case long before the recent wave of privacy scandals and data spills. It's built on the Mac's reputation for being more secure than Windows, and on strong device-level encryption that's built into most iPhones.
- It also helps that the company's profits come mostly from selling hardware rather than selling ads, which are targeted based on user data.
Yes, but: Users don't even think about where their data is stored, and Apple's sales pitch may become increasingly irrelevant as the cloud becomes even fuzzier at the edges.
- Many users backup their iOS devices to Apple's iCloud. While Apple doesn't normally access those backups, it will provide them to law enforcement with a court order.
- Also, Apple has begun touting a shift to revenue from services, which will put it more in the same game that Facebook and Google play.
For Facebook, privacy chiefly means limiting who can see what you post or send.
- Under CEO Mark Zuckerberg's new pivot to privacy, the social network is encouraging users to move their interactions from the "town square" of public profiles and pages to the "digital living room" of private groups.
- It's also committed to encrypting each of its three messaging services — Facebook Messenger, Instagram, and the long-encrypted WhatsApp.
Yes, but: This approach to privacy barely acknowledges the complaint from users and critics that they're most concerned about how much Facebook itself knows and shares about them — and what they most want is privacy from Facebook.
- Encryption only protects direct messaging, not posts shared in groups and on limited-access profiles.
For Google, privacy is now an option that you can invoke.
- The search giant's new privacy agenda, unveiled this week, offers users a host of settings that allow them to limit or opt out of Google's collection and retention of personal data. It's also promising to limit advertisers' use of sensor data from Google's growing hardware lineup.
- CEO Sundar Pichai is emphasizing that data collection is what makes Google's services useful — like when Google Maps knows where "home" is for you, or when aggregation of anonymous traffic data tells you how bad your commute is today.
- According to Pichai, only "a small subset of data helps serve ads that are relevant and that provide the revenue that keeps Google products free and accessible," and "if receiving a customized ads experience isn’t helpful, you can turn it off."
Yes, but: Most users never bother to change default settings. And Google still collects a ton of data, which can be a concern for those worried that the government might improperly access it.