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Apple strengthens focus on privacy

If there was one thing Apple wanted you to take away from its 2021 developer conference, it was that privacy is key. The company, which previewed the latest version of its mobile software at WWDC21 along with the new MacOS, updated iPad software and new features for its TV and Watch operating systems, made privacy a core part of its event.

From its digital assistant Siri to the internet traffic leaving your device, Apple announced a raft of new measures it says are designed to protect users and their data, securing it from those who would seek to exploit it.

“This approach is about transparency and control for users. In practice, our north star is around the customer and what we think they value and making sure that at the very least we’re giving them visibility and choice,” Apple’s senior vice-president for software engineering, Craig Federighi told PA.

“It’s all absolutely in the service of transparency and shining this light on privacy protections. “We think it leads to the cleaning up of those practices and ultimately a better experience for our customers.”

“Apple’s tightening of privacy options for users was the defining theme for this year’s WWDC and will cause further consternation among those companies dependent on user data for tracking, advertising and monetisation,” said Ben Woods, chief analyst with CCS Insight.

But this isn’t something that Apple has decided to tackle in 2021. The company has been talking about privacy for some time. It first introduced anti-tracking features in 2017. But it was only in 2020 that things seemed to shake the industry.

Last year’s mobile software, iOS14, forced app developers to be more transparent about what data they were tracking on their users, and what they were doing with it; an update subsequently forced them to ask the permission of users to track their activity across other websites and gave users the option to refuse.

That attracted the ire of those in the advertising industry who have become dependent on data to target their ads. And it culminated in Facebook taking out newspaper ads to castigate Apple, positioning itself as a champion of the small business.

Ultimately, it made no difference; apps still have to be transparent about their data use.

More complicated

Things are about to get more complicated. The new version of Apple’s software will see apps forced to disclose how often they are using the permissions they have been granted, from accessing contacts and photographs, to the camera and microphone, all packaged up in the App Privacy report.

And Apple’s executives aren’t convinced that things will be as bad as people believe for the advertising industry.


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