January 28 is Data Privacy Day, a time to raise awareness about the importance of protecting people’s personal information online. Apple is commemorating Data Privacy Day by sharing “A Day in the Life of Your Data,” an easy-to-understand report illustrating how companies track user data across websites and apps. The report also shares how privacy features across Apple’s products give users more transparency and control, empowering people with the tools and knowledge to protect their personal information.
John and his 7-year-old daughter, Emma, are spending the day together. In the morning, John uses his computer to look up the weather, read the news, and check a map app on his smartphone for traffic conditions for a trip to the playground next to his daughter’s school.
So far, so good.
During the ride, there are 4 apps on his phone collecting and tracking their location data periodically in the background. After the data has been extracted from the device, app developers sell it to a host of obscure third party data brokers that John has never heard of. Although the location data collected is claimed to be anonymous, user tracking allows data brokers to match John’s location history from these apps with information collected from his use of other apps. This means information tracked across different apps and from multiple sources is available for any company or organization to purchase, and could be used to create a comprehensive profile about him that includes his precise day-to-day movements.
Apple does a great job making the case for its privacy model. Facebook complains that Apple is abusing their position to their own benefit. But at the heart of Apple’s new ruleset is transparency. If you don’t track a user’s data without their knowing, you won’t have an issue. If you want to track your user’s data, tell them and ask their permission.
To me, this is a clearcut issue. Transparency is good. Surreptitious tracking is evil. The end.