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Apple and the tough sell of privacy

Apple CEO Tim Cook. Photo: Apple

To the degree that people are concerned about the amount of data being collected by Big Tech, Apple would seem to be the big beneficiary. It gets its money from selling products (and to a lesser degree content and services) rather than through advertising.

Why now: It's a point CEO Tim Cook has been driving home after Facebook's big privacy lapse, including during an interview on Wednesday with Recode's Kara Swisher, when he said:

"The truth is, we could make a ton of money if we monetized our customer — if our customer was our product. We’ve elected not to do that."

Not so fast: As well positioned as Apple is, it faces one big obstacle: Privacy tends to be a very tough sell.

  • Historically, people have gladly traded less privacy in exchange for greater utility and added features. Plus, privacy, like security, is tough to see — we pay attention to it only when it goes away.
  • Also, Apple isn't exactly in the same business as Facebook and Google. The iPhone might get some boost over Android if consumers start paying more attention to privacy. But Apple doesn't compete directly with Facebook or even with most of Google's online services.

Another possible winner: To the degree that consumers do shift toward favoring companies with stronger privacy protections, another potential beneficiary is Microsoft. While it does make money from advertising, its history of regulation has made the company more privacy focused than its rivals.