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Apple Takes a New, More Transparent Approach to User Privacy

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on October 07, 2015 6:59 AM

Apple launched a new privacy website last week, seeking to better explain its privacy commitment to the public. It starts by stating what any sophisticated technology user has known for years: "When an online service is free, you're not the customer. You're the product."

But now the tech giant wants to give users a better understanding of and more control over what information is collected about them.

A More Transparent Privacy Explanation

Apple's privacy policy now comes surrounded by a series of webpages explaining the company's commitment to privacy and the effects of its policy. (Apple has not issued a new privacy policy, however, despite some media reports. The privacy website, rather, explains the company's policy. It does not change it.)

Consider it a layman's guide to consumer privacy. It highlights some efforts Apple is making to protect user privacy. These include refusing to allow a "backdoor" to encrypted devices -- the kind of master key that would allow companies or law enforcement officers to easily decrypt protected information -- as well as storing health and fitness information locally.

The company's new privacy page also provides information on how users can manage and protect their privacy. A lot of that is just advice on best practices for password usage, but there are also helpful reminders on how to manage location data and data-sharing with apps.

But the actual policy, last updated September 2014, remains. And it's pretty expansive. Apple can collect your personal information and that of anyone you share content with, and use that information internally for development, analysis, and advertising. Apple can also share that information with third parties for product and advertising services.

Praise for Apple's Privacy

After last summer, Apple's got some ground to make up when it comes to privacy. A class action filed against the tech company last year alleged that Apple has been using its location services software to track customers without their consent. Another accused it of selling user information illegally. Then there was the "Fappening." In August of last year, a breach in Apple's iCloud services resulted in the hacking and distribution of hundreds of private, compromising photos of celebrities.

But despite these troubles, Apple has largely been praised for its privacy efforts. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, for example, has commended the company for its "strong stance regarding user rights, transparency, and privacy." Apple has adopted every EFF best practice for user privacy, from requiring a warrant before turning over user data to law enforcement, to disclosing how long user data is retained. That has earned Apple a five stars ranking in the EFF's "Who Has Your Back" privacy report, compared to Google and Amazon's paltry three stars.

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