Apple pitches itself as the most privacy-minded of the Big Tech companies, and indeed it goes to great lengths to collect less data than its rivals.
Nonetheless, the iPhone maker will still know plenty about you if you use many of its services. In particular, Apple knows your billing information and all the digital and physical goods you have bought from it, including music, movie and app purchases.
Yes, but: Even for heavy users, Apple offers a different approach. It uses a number of techniques to either minimize how much data it has or encrypt it so that Apple doesn't have access to iMessages and similar personal communications.
Between the lines: Apple is able to do this, in part, because it makes its money from selling hardware and increasingly services, rather than through advertising.
- Well, it does have some advertising business and also gets billions of dollars per year from Google in exchange for being Apple's default search provider.
- But Apple maintains that its commitment to privacy is based not just on its business model but on core values.
How it works: In order to collect less data, Apple tries to do as much work on its devices as possible, even if that sometimes means algorithms aren't as well tuned, processing is slower, or the same work gets done on multiple devices.
- Photos are a case in point. Even if you store your images in Apple's iCloud, Apple does the work of facial identification, grouping, labeling and tagging images on the Mac or iOS device, rather than on the service's own computers.
- Some of the most sensitive data that your device collects, including your fingerprint or Face ID, stay on the device.
Maps: While Apple does need to do some processing in the cloud, it takes a number of steps to protect privacy beyond its competitors.
- First, the identification and management of significant locations like your home and work is done on the device.
- And the location information that does get sent up to the cloud is tied to a unique identifier code rather than a specific individual's identity — and that identifier changes over time.
Location information: Beyond Apple's Maps program, other applications, including some from Apple, can make use of location data with user permission. Apple is adding new options with iOS 13, due this coming fall, including...
- The ability for users to share their location with an app just once, rather than giving ongoing access.
- For apps that are making routine background use of location, Apple is also letting users review a map of the locations these apps are seeing, so they can decide if that is information they really want to be sharing.
Read more of this story, with further info on iCloud, Apple email, Messages, Safari, Siri, Apple Pay, Apple Music and TV — plus what you can do about it.
Go deeper: Read the rest of the series on what companies know about you, like Google, Facebook and Amazon.