So the other day I wrote a post called Do people really want privacy? I wanted to try and explain to people why ignoring Apple is a bad idea if you make the claim that you value privacy so much. I looked at what Apple is currently doing and what Apple is about to do in iOS 14 and macOS 11.
This commenter is a proponent of open source. They make it seem like open source software is best for privacy because people can read the code. You of course can't do that with closed source software such as Apple's. There is merit to this belief and I certainly do not dislike open source... a point I made clear in my post. A point ignored by the commenter because, you know... Apple. But open source software is NOT always safe. If you can read the software so can bad players. They can read the software and exploit flaws in the code to do bad things to your machine. Google search, Duck Duck Go search, Bing search.
So let's run this down?
You may be asked to provide your personal information anytime you are in contact with Apple or an Apple affiliated company
Nothing actually nefarious here. The commenter twists this by stating that when Apple uses the word "may" they actually mean "do". It's the underlying foundation of his argument. So let's say that this is true. Let's say Apple will ask you for personal information. What do they ask for? Name, Phone Number, Address. They also ask for answers to personal questions that you set in your profile setup. So in other words the exact same information that most other companies will ask you. If you're calling your bank or utility company they will ask you for the same information so... If this is the level of your argument then you're not trying hard enough.
It's easy to pass this comment off as the smoking gun. But is it? Who is Apple's affiliates? Developers. They did have a small run of advertisers with their iAds platform. Advertisers stopped using it because Apple refused to hand over information about users. This is information Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, etc were eager to supply. Stop and think about that for a second. Apple's iAd platform gave user privacy while providing the information advertisers needed. Advertisers never used the platform. It stopped them from knowing everything about the user. If you think Brave is going to be successful with their idea then think again. Apple has shown time and again where the tech is going. They know how to provide the balance between users and other players. If they can't convince advertisers to use their system what makes you think a no name browser can? Irrespective of how great a browser Brave is.
So what about developers? Does Apple give everything they have to them? Apple stopped allowing UUID usage. Developers were pulling all sorts of identifying information about their customers. Apple forced developers to use a set of APIs. These give enough information about a device but provides it in an anonymous way. Yes developers can see what your iPhone or iPad is. Yes they can see what country you live in. Yes they can see when you use their app and for how long. No they can't tell that it's you who's using it. The information Apple collects and then passes on is NOT used for marketing. You are NOT the product like you are with Microsoft and Google. Apple passes that info through an anonymisation process. This strips anything that links you to the application.
They may also combine it with other information to provide and improve our products, services, content, and advertising. You are not required to provide the personal information that we have requested, but, if you chose not to do so, in many cases we will not be able to provide you with our products or services or respond to any queries you may have.
This is a common use for data and one I'll explain with a hypothetical situation. One of the arguments about the data Apple collects has to do with location information. Why would Apple need to collect this? How can this data make their apps better? Apple Maps.
Apple Maps does not store the maps on your device. The maps change and updating these maps to every device is a data intensive task. People don't seem to understand how much data a mapping system uses. I worked in the IT department of a company that handles the distribution of natural gas throughout New Zealand. They often ran out of storage space for the mapping system they were using. The amount of data the system used was huge. The level of accuracy they were needing to tie in with the control room systems was grand. Apple Maps handles data for most of the world so you can imagine trying to cram all that into a handheld device.
So an iPhone has a GPS device. That communicates to a satellite that then sends a signal to tell your phone where you are. The information is largely useless because it's literally only numbers. Those numbers then need to be applied to a map... hey look at that Apple has one of those. To get that information into the map to be useable Apple needs to record those numbers. They then need to send them to their servers to pull up the surrounding information. The they need to send that back to your phone. By its nature they actually must collect this information.
But how does that information help Apple make a better mapping system? Apple is putting so much work into Augmented Reality and Artificial Intelligence. The WWDC 20 keynote shows this. It makes sense to work on either of those things you'd need to collect information. AI for instance is tricky as I mentioned in my post Don't fear an AI end of world. I highlighted a TED Talk that looked at why AI is far behind human intelligence. AI requires huge amounts of information to be able to make simple decisions. Apple needs to collect this data because in the case of Apple Maps people's lives are actually in danger. So how could Apple use your location data to make Apple Maps better?
The main road between New Plymouth and Hawera has roughly 10,000 vehicles per 7 days travelling along it. It's not a huge amount but New Zealand isn't a big country. So that gives us a base to work with. The iPhone has a 21.3% market share worldwide. In New Zealand that's 41.17%. So we'll use this number.
10,000 * 0.4117 = 4,117 of those vehicles will have an iPhone sitting in them. This is iOS share so would also include iPads. Apple doesn't release detailed numbers anymore. We'll say of that market, iPhones command a 95% share. That give us 3,911.15 iPhones so we'll say 3911.
So travelling that road means that 3911 iPhones are sending data to Apple. Now Apple currently uses TomTom to supply the maps of the roads. TomTom is only as accurate as the maps supplied to it. There has been a couple of road realignment projects going on over the past couple of years. Those maps are pretty accurate but not accurate enough during the redevelopment.
But what if Apple used that data to generate on-the-fly maps? There's 10,000 vehicles travelling that road each week. 3911 of those vehicles are supplying Apple with information. That's 3911 data sets that Apple could use to build a map on-the-fly. But then we need to account for car poolers. Say of those 3911 vehicles there's 1000 of them that have a full car of people. The ratio of iPhone users goes up. We'll say of the three extra people per car two have iPhones and the other has an Android phone or nothing. So we're now 2000 extra data sets. Now not only do we have car data we have position on the road data. We can find out how wide a vehicle is because we now have 3 people in a car travelling in the same direction. They are all within 2 meters of each other. We're now building a good picture.
But due to the road change the map is out of date. No worries. Apple has enough data to redraw the map. 5911 people travelling in the same directions has to imply that that's where the road goes. Apple now has the first heuristic AI based mapping system on the commercial market. Apple may or may not be working on this. Given their track record it makes sense to think they are.
Privacy is a huge problem to tackle. To spread lies and innuendo about a company who is taking an active role in solving the problem is not helping. The commenter on my post is not someone with new ideas. In fact I've dealt with people like this since the 90's when I was on the Amiga platform. It's most likely this person has had very little use of the Apple ecosystem. Most likely this is because they have already formed a discrimination of them. It'll be because Apple doesn't subscribe to their belief system that all software must be free. This system makes the incorrect statement that open source software is safe. Guess what, there is open source data mining software. Is that safe and private?
I'm not attacking the idea of open source. I've used and do use much open source software. What I'm attacking is the idea that open source is safer than closed source. I'm attacking the idea that Apple is a bad player because they stop developers doing whatever they want. It's developers doing whatever they want that has bought about the privacy issue in the first place.
I'm not saying Apple is better than Linux. I'm saying Apple is proving themselves to be a great asset in protecting our privacy. I'm saying ditching that asset because of some useless discrimination is stupid. Agree or not, spreading lies is NOT going to get anyone on your side. Especially when those lies are so easy to disprove.