Life & Technology

The Latest on Apple and Google’s Privacy Battle


Just a few months ago, Apple released its first TV commercials extolling the privacy advantages of the iPhone. ZDNet reported that Apple continued to reinforce its emphasis on privacy at the launch of its new media offerings, all of which are subscription-based and include no advertising. This will be enhanced by personal data collection or usage sharing habits. Google is making an effort too, as they recently featured the changes they’re making to Android and other products at the latest Google IO. Their goal is the same as Apple’s – to enhance and improve privacy and security.

Apple has long claimed its place as the more privacy-conscious brand over competitors like Google. But a New York Times investigation reveals that having an iPhone doesn’t stop Google from handing over users’ data. Apparently, Google uses its in-house database called Sensorvault to cooperate with law enforcement, providing them with the data they require. Data available to each phone is initially anonymous until the police figure out the number of suspect devices. Then, Google provides them with the names of the people each device is associated with.

To ordinary citizens, this can seem alarming, especially since the Apple vs. Android privacy battle is part of a much larger question over public privacy. Technology has reduced privacy in many ways since most devices that we own collect some form of data. Back in 2016, Wired recounts how Apple even opposed an FBI writ to unlock and get information from the phone of Syed Farook, the suspect in the San Bernardino shooting, in December of the previous year. In the legal industry, the retrieval of such data is called eDiscovery. A feature by Special Counsel on ‘What is eDiscovery?’ explains that data can be extracted from cell phones, servers, computers, and even social media. In this sense, it can be used as evidence in both civil and criminal cases. In Apple’s case, the FBI eventually dropped the case, which was seen as a major victory in the privacy war for the San Bernardino company.

Nevertheless, users continue to pour more personal information into Apple products, further pushing its credentials as a company that cares about privacy. In turn, Apple continues to update their sites and software to offer reassurances that they have no interest in their users’ personal information. Apple CEO Tim Cook said they don’t build a profile based on user email content or web browsing habits to sell to advertisers. “We don’t ‘monetize’ the information you store on your iPhone or in iCloud. And we don’t read your email or your messages to get information to market to you,” he said. “Since our business doesn’t depend on advertising, we have no interest in doing this — and we couldn’t even if we wanted to,” he emphasized.

As if in retaliation, Google is preparing a Chrome update that will enable users to block tracking cookies from marketing companies. Our report ‘Google Chrome Will Soon Install Tracking Cookies Blocks’ has all the details about this plan. Once released, Chrome might come with its own tracking barrier, but one that will not damage Google’s own cookies and reports. It turns out, the company has been developing this tool for the last six years on and off. The new filters will focus on blocking companies that seek to make a profit. Google could announce the new privacy features any time soon, but for now, users remain in limbo about whether or not their devices are indeed safe from prying eyes.

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