One of the defensive arguments to protest Apple’s decision to get developers to put what they call privacy labels next to their applications was that the company itself did not apply the same rules.
Apple lives by its own rules (privacy)
Apple has always said it intends to follow the same rules it imposes on developers, and has now made privacy labels available for all of its apps, including system utilities and the App Store itself. «Our privacy tags are designed to help you understand how apps handle your data, including the apps we develop at Apple,» the company said on a page where it posted the information.
The page describes the applications for each Apple hardware platform: iOS, iPadOS, macOS, watchOS and tvOS.
Announced at WWDC 2020 and officially launched with iOS 14.3, Apple’s nutrition nutrition labels are designed to help customers understand detailed information about data collected by apps. The idea is that Apple users can avoid applications that require information they don’t want to share, and that developers who offer similar functionality while respecting user privacy can demonstrate this commitment.
That must be good for everyone. Of course, there have been some complaints.
As nations explore the strict policing of their people, some argue that technology companies are already overtaking it, creating a completely uncontrolled free market for personal information.
This is dangerous, Apple believes. As CEO Tim Cook said in January:
«The fact is that an ecosystem interconnected by companies that are providers of fake news and divisional hawkers, by pursuers and peddlers who are just looking to earn a quick sum, is more present in our lives than ever.
«And it has never been clearer how our fundamental right to privacy and our social fabric degrade. As I said before, if we accept as normal and inevitable that everything in our lives can be added and sold, then we lose much more than the data. We lose the freedom to be human. «
Of course, the problem with the application privacy labeling model is that Apple doesn’t closely monitor what developers say. In the small print at the bottom of the page, the company says, «This information has not been verified by Apple.»
This is interesting because it also means that by posting privacy tags for their own applications, the company actually places a greater burden of proof on it than application developers. A company as large as Apple cannot mislead consumers about the privacy practices of its applications. Other developers can, and some say yes.
This does not mean that Apple will not react if it finds that a developer is making misleading statements about their application.
The power of the crowds
«Similar to how age ratings work in the App Store, developers report their own privacy practices,» says Apple.
«If we find out that a developer may have provided inaccurate information, we will work with them to ensure the accuracy of the information.»
This is useful and should also be a motivation for more privacy-conscious consumers to examine the claims that application developers make. Developers who make false claims must be identified. Developers who make false claims and then abuse in any way the data they have secretly stolen from users have to face the consequences.
Now that it has released application privacy labels, you can expect the company to continue to innovate in that space. In this case, innovation could mean hiring staff to examine and verify confidentiality claims. Those developers who make claims that they cannot support will be identified, warned, named, embarrassed and potentially removed from the store. This process would create opportunities for smaller developers to create similar functionality in products that do not take data.
Apple has already begun to do this:
«Apple conducts routine and ongoing audits of the information provided, and we work with developers to correct any inaccuracies. Apps that don’t accurately disclose privacy information may have future app updates rejected or, in some cases, may be completely removed from the App Store if they don’t comply. «
In the future, application developers should expect more of the same. In fact, it seems plausible to expect the company to develop artificial intelligence testing systems that will investigate applications against privacy practices claimed during the App Store approval process, as it is already reviewing payments to verify them against any other type of fraud.
In the meantime, developers will only be able to track users if they receive permission using the application tracking transparency (ATT) framework that comes with iOS 14.5. Despite many stains against its reputation, Facebook is furiously fighting ATT, making a series of statements that I find unconvincing to defend its business.
Meanwhile, Apple seems committed to complying with its own rules and will continue to improve the management of personal data and privacy protection systems on its platforms.