Kudos to Apple for privacy-focussed features

I have been using ProtonMail, Signal, DuckDuckGo and SimpleLogin for a fairly long time. These make up an integral part of my online presence, and I cannot go back to a time where these didn’t exist.

Without doubt, I truly enjoy and recommend using privacy-respecting products.

In a recent conference, Tim Cook committed to advancing user privacy by giving them tools to control where their data is shared. Especially in today’s world, it’s important to understand the implications of online data tracking, and it’s necessary to be informed about ways to prevent that. Apple’s recent release of an illustration explaining implications of data tracking will be a great read. While the conclusion of that report focusses on Apple-centric tools to prevent data tracking, the content of the report holds true, that companies profit by monitoring users.

At Apple, we made our choice a long time ago. We believe that ethical technology is technology that works for you. It’s technology that helps you sleep, not keeps you up. It tells you when you’ve had enough, it gives you space to create, or draw, or write or learn, not refresh just one more time. It’s technology that can fade into the background when you’re on a hike or going for a swim but is there to warn you when your heart rate spikes or help you when you’ve had a nasty fall. And with all of this, always, it’s privacy and security first, because no-one needs to trade away the rights of their users to deliver a great product.

Tim Cook at the Computers, Privacy and Data Protection conference, MacRumors

Starting with the next beta release of iOS 14, Apple will be launching a new tool called App Tracking Transparency that will enable users of apps to control sharing of data with app makers. By taking away data tracking functionality within the iOS ecosystem, Apple is definitely making a sizeable dent in businesses that primarily focus on monetizing user data, read Facebook.

An image showing Apple's new App Tracking Transparency feature
Apple’s new App Tracking Transparency feature that will be available in the next beta release of iOS 14

Open-source software like Pi-hole has existed for a while, and recently, online services like NextDNS and AdGuard have emerged that offer similar controls. I am a happy user of these products and services, but I particularly like how Apple is championing this effort.

iOS takes up 50% of the market share in the US, which is Facebook’s largest market. If Facebook is feeling threatened by Apple iOS 14’s new privacy features, we are moving in the right direction.

It’s also worth noting that WhatsApp will be sharing user data with Facebook group of companies. It’s particularly worse for those WhatsApp Business API users as their messages wouldn’t be end-to-end encrypted. Differently put, they will be visible to third-party Business Solutions Providers, including cloud-based version of the API hosted by Facebook:

Some organizations may choose to delegate management of their WhatsApp Business API endpoint to a third-party Business Solution Provider. In these instances, communication still uses the same Signal protocol encryption. However, because the WhatsApp Business API user has chosen a third party to manage their endpoint, WhatsApp does not consider these messages end-to-end encrypted. In the future, in 2021, this will also apply to businesses that choose to leverage the cloud-based version of the API hosted by Facebook.

Gizmodo – This Was WhatsApp’s Plan All Along

On the flip side, Apple is fighting back, highlighting that this will impact small businesses that depend on personalized ads for sales. Facebook also highlights that Apple’s own apps will be exempted from App Tracking Transparency, but it’s not clear if that’s true, based on Apple’s press release.

Other privacy efforts by Apple that I appreciate

In June of 2020, Apple announced support for native encrypted DNS throughout the device. This is a big deal for users like me that have a NextDNS subscription.

In iOS 14 and iPad OS 14, Apple also launched a new App Store functionality, called the privacy nutrition labels. It gives users a quick overview of the apps’ privacy practices — as in, what level of data is obtained by the app, what these details are used for, and also outlines how they may be linked to an individual. Apple’s own apps, like Apple Music, are required to show these labels; they are not exempted.

An image showing the new privacy nutrition labels feature on the Apple App Store
An image showing the new privacy nutrition labels feature on the Apple App Store

If you are not aware, the messaging app Signal collects only your mobile number. It doesn’t link that mobile number to your identity either! If you are a WhatsApp or Telegram user, it’s time to consider switching to Signal.

An image highlighting the data that the messaging app Signal may collect and link to your identity
Signal’s privacy nutrition labels on the App Store

I am keen on seeing where things head from here!

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