Does Anyone Care About Privacy Anymore?

Apple has a long history of creating compelling advertising like the legendary “1984” commercial that contrasted its maverick standing with the conformity of its competitors. In January Apple rented a billboard to deliver a message to attendees of the annual CES trade show: “What happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone.”

That, of course, is a riff on the well-known Las Vegas advertising slogan. But in this case, Apple was actually calling out the sins of its competitors and reminding us that while its rivals are profiting from a Big Brother attitude to personal privacy, Apple is attempting to respect privacy.

We have become numb to the invasions of our privacy. We don’t think twice when we Google “fishing rods” on our laptops, then see banner ads for fishing gear pop up, or coupons for sporting goods appear on Waze as we cruise past the mall. When we drive, Android Auto is looking inside our car at parameters such as vehicle speed and engine revs and reporting the data back to Google. We post on Facebook while the company faces one scandal after another about how it sells its users’ personal data. We would rather not know if our televisions are logging and reporting what we are watching. Seventy-four million homes have smart speakers with open microphones monitored by companies like Google and Amazon. They are monetizing us, and we are okay with that.

We are 35 years past 1984, and the eyes and ears surveilling us are a hundred times worse than imagined in the novel.

Consumer electronics is awash with smart phones, smart speakers, smart TVs, and other, related kinds of products that facilitate these abuses. Like a death by a thousand cuts, we have not felt the injury as we have given away our privacy in return for technological convenience or the novelty of invention. We are 35 years past 1984, and the eyes and ears surveilling us are a hundred times worse than imagined in the novel. Maybe loss of privacy is the price for progress. Maybe I am old-fashioned for caring. But, it bothers me. And, I still have a choice.

While many companies convince us to relinquish our privacy, Apple claims that it does not profit from its customers’ personal information. Indeed, the company seems to take confidentiality very seriously. A few years ago, despite great criticism, Apple refused to help the FBI unlock the iPhone of a suspected terrorist. Whether those actions were right or wrong, it demonstrated a corporate philosophy — a commitment to customers — that goes beyond technology and marketing.

I don’t own Apple stock. I’ve never really cared for the hipster image Apple has carefully cultivated. I have never, respectfully, bought into the cult of Steve Jobs. My entire inventory of Apple products comprises an old iPod. I am not an Apple fanboy — far from it. But I am a fan of privacy. That billboard got me to thinking. No technology eco-system is perfect, but if Apple more carefully respects my privacy, maybe I should ditch Google and all the others, and switch over to Apple.

I would rather pay a few hundred dollars for my privacy than let Google and the others sell it for pennies. My privacy is worth at least that much to me.

jeffhenning's picture

Apple products have been key to my success as a designer. Of course, that's me and your mileage may vary.

I'll take Apple at it's word that data mining and exploiting their customers info is not part of their business model. If their claims proved to be false, the company would take a big hit in both credibility and money. They make so much money already that they've just introduced the Bugatti Veyron of PC's. Monetizing customer data seems like a pretty small opportunity for them.

To the general population in the US, an iPhone is unbreakable. Awesome!

To US governmental agencies, that is no longer the case. An Israeli company, NSO, markets their Pegasus spyware to can crack iPhones and Androids. It only sells it to countries they deem to be "good actors" (this was on 60 Minutes this spring).

Saudi Arabia used Pegasus software to setup the murder of reporter Jamal Khashoggi. So much for that "good actor" claim.

Here's hoping Google and Apple make further strides to secure their mobile platforms.

Take it for granted that nefarious forces and governmental agencies may be surveiling you regardless of whether they should or not. You might as well be living in a very small town where everyone knows your business.

Like your house, if someone wants to break into your digital devices the can. Nothing is perfectly secure.

StifflerClause's picture

Apple protected the San Bernardino terrorists, but were in a hurry to give the FEDs Paul Manifort’s iCloud data.

So, it’s more accurate to say “What happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone. Unless It can be used to smear POTUS Trump”.