With its latest iOS update, Apple continues to position itself as a privacy leader, though it isn’t doing so in an entirely sure-footed way.
As the Electronic Frontier Foundation reports, Apple is ostensibly taking a couple of steps in the right direction, the surest of which being its approach to face and object recognition for its Photos app. First announced at this year’s WWDC developers’ conference, the feature lets Apple’s iOS sort and search through images based on who is in them and the kinds of objects depicted. The important thing here, with respect to privacy, is that it’s all done on the user’s device, and not through Apple’s servers, so the biometric data of featured individuals isn’t shared and isn’t put at risk to server hacks.
The other step Apple is taking is in offering ‘differential privacy’ — an approach to collecting aggregate user data for analytical purposes without attaching that data to any specific users. Unfortunately, as EFF notes, Apple isn’t being very transparent about the exact methods it’s using, so “the public and the research community have no way to verify the implementation”.
Meanwhile, The Intercept has just published a report alleging that Apple logs the metadata of users’ iMessage conversations — Apple’s digitally enhanced texts — and shares them with law enforcement when ordered to do so. For some, these practices will scarcely raise an eyebrow; but for others it will appear to be another swerve along Apple’s path in building its brand as a guardian of user data.
September 29, 2016 – by Alex Perala