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Privacy has long been a right that each human holds; it is even listed as one under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Even with the emergence of the Internet, a tool for people to connect on a wide-scale basis, the right to privacy should be preserved. However, many tech giants access and control users’ data – often blurring the lines of these fundamental human rights. In this article, we will be examining Apple and Google’s approach to user privacy and ultimately determine if they are violating your rights.
In recent years, Apple has been making moves to position itself as the leadership in privacy. Among these changes are the release of the App Tracking Transparency (ATT) option which notifies users of trackers and asks them to opt in or out. It has been reported that roughly 25% of users are allowing their Internet history to be tracked. Facebook, one of the social media companies that profits heavily off of tracking and targeted advertising, is seeing a potential loss of $12.8 billion with Apple’s new privacy policies.
Adding to the privacy movement is the IOS 15 update of June of 2021, which further increased transparency of data tracking – allowing users to better choose what type of information they share. And now, the tech giant is planning to release IOS 16 to the public in September of 2022, which will further reinforce these privacy initiatives. All of Apple’s privacy policies can be found in the Personal Safety User Guide.
However, there have been a lot of holes poked in Apple’s privacy policies. While their physical products may be private and secure, there is a security concern with Apple’s iCloud services. With an estimated 745 million users on its cloud storage service, Apple has become one of the most popular methods for people to store their personal information; however, Apple’s choice to hold onto the encryption keys gives the company access to users’ data if needed. This method is used when Apple scans devices for illegal images, such as evidence for child abuse. While the prevention of child abuse is a noble cause, Apple’s ability to scan personal information opens up the floor for a discussion about the company’s capabilities – questioning their commitment to privacy.
On the surface, Google is yet another company focused on the privacy of users. The company has taken measures to make its network secure. For example, Google utilizes the 256-bit Advanced Encryption Standard for its Google Drive servers. The tech giant has also been preparing to adopt “new privacy restrictions that will cut tracking across apps on its Android devices” – similar to Apple’s App Tracking Transparency.
Furthermore, according to Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai, “Google will never sell any personal information to third parties.” In his statement with the New York Times, Pichai further explains that data collection is only used to improve the company’s user experience, and only a small portion of the data is used for a “customized ad experience.”
What Pichai does not explicitly state is Google’s real-time bidding system that exploits the technicality of the word “sell.” While the company never directly sells personal data to third parties, they will share that data with advertisers and sell them the right to display ads to a targeted audience. Through this process, Google shares sensitive information, including “geolocation, device IDs, identifying cookies, and browsing history”, with numerous third parties.
Real-time bidding is always running in the background of the network, as advertisingcompanies are fighting for personal information in a live auction hosted by Google. The popular search engine company also controls most of the real-time bidding ecosystem, as they have acquired both DoubleClick and AdMob – online and mobile advertising companies respectively. Google has gotten backlash for their behind-the-scenes transactions. In May of 2021, users concerned about their privacy filed a federal class action lawsuit against the company for violating their promise of not selling personal information.
There are various approaches to user privacy. While different people prefer different solutions, it is important to understand each company’s policies. After all, Apple and Google are just two big names within a sea of tech companies.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Daniel Shin is a contributor to Identity Review from the University of Southern California.
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