With Apple, privacy has become a marketing issue

The brand that has become an idol presents itself to the world as the staunch defender of this principle: but not all that glitters is gold

(foto: Christoph Dernbach/picture alliance via Getty Images)

The novel American Gods, which inspired the namesake TV series produced by Amazon Prime Video, tells the clash between the old gods like Odin and Kali, and the new ones that have almost definitively supplanted them: TV, video games, globalization. Among these, if the authors had not been sure of ending up in court, Apple would have fully returned, the object of an exclusive cult, which does not allow different logics or devices, and changeable, because it is capable of adapting to the trends of the moment. Well, today this cult has a new password: the privacy.

The brand that has become an idol presents itself to the world as it is staunch defender of this principle. It announces news for the protection of its users, challenges platforms like Facebook that have made online activity tracking their wealth and forces the entire market to change. Is it bad? Far from it. The Cupertino narrative, however, risks creaking. When you start preaching well, you have to scratch the same way. Making your own flag on a principle inevitably exposes you to criticism and the colossus does not really have all the credentials. Because in the meantime he is in the dock for anti-competitive practices, for example. But above all because from surveillance capitalism, as Shoshana Zuboff, al privacy capitalism, the step may be shorter than imagined.

It is undeniable that on the privacy front Apple has done more and in advance than other big hi-tech companies. Indeed, doing so has given a positive boost to everyone else and contributed to radically transform the tracking systems and the advertising market. It all started with a stance that even Google was forced to emulate, announcing the removal of third-party cookies on its Chrome browser starting from 2022 (we talked about it who). This was the App Tracking Transparency, a feature brought by the latest update of the iOS operating system that asks users to authorize or not an app to exchange data with external apps. Already this would have been an unprecedented novelty among the Over the Top, but at the Worldwide Developers Conference of last June 7, Apple has increased the dose.

With iOS 15 will arrive App Privacy Report, a new section in which users will have a clear overview of what data the apps installed on their devices are using. Then the Mail Privacy Protection function which, by hiding your IP address, will prevent you from tracing your web browsing and therefore profiling it with advertising objectives. Still in the mail field, Hide My Mail hides your e-mail address when you sign up for a new online service, allowing you to enter fictitious addresses that refer to the original. Finally, the Private Relay service is designed to encrypt the user’s navigation through the browser, so that no one other than the user himself and the destination website has visibility on the exchange of information.

Remarkable, seriously. Too bad that the last two tools mentioned will only be active for users who are willing to pay. Apple includes them in iCloud +, a new subscription to the company’s software that will include not only memory but also additional services, some of which are related to privacy. From one point of view, Apple’s operation is a masterpiece. It presents iOS 15 as the best possible operating system for the protection of personal data, it makes it something exclusive and desirable, and in doing so it reverses a mechanism that has been more than ten years old: with the awareness reached by users after the Cambridge Analytica scandal, today it is not it is more timely to make money by violating privacy but, on the contrary, by guaranteeing it. And, let’s be clear, not for a few dollars more that some – who knows how many – will spend on iCloud +, but above all for the many users who will continue to worship Apple or marry its cult, precisely in light of the strategic positioning that the brand has chosen. on a subject felt as that of privacy.

To put it in a joke, in short, anonymity (or almost) is the profiling of 2020. Or it could become. And, pioneeringly, Apple finds itself playing the same game as those who profit from data and lack of transparency, but in the opposite direction. Now, here it is not a question of establishing what is better and what is worse, or who is more or less bad, but rather why it is not possible to address the issue of privacy for its real importance, beyond marketing and spite. between competing companies. Also because, beyond the question of principle concerning the opportunity to make privacy services available for a fee, there is a much more concrete question concerning the consistency and possible consequences of Apple’s work.

The new Private Relay feature, which essentially serves to obscure user browsing, has been likened to a VPN. A true VPN, however, is designed to encrypt all information that comes out of any device. In the case of Private Relay, on the other hand, without getting too involved in the technical, the device must obviously be an iPhone or iPad, and only part of the traffic is involved: that conveyed by proprietary applications. Thus, Private Relay is designed exclusively for Safari, the Apple browser. Likewise, Mail Privacy Protection and Hide My Mail work on Mail, the “official” e-mail service. Indeed, as we have seen, part of these iOS integrations will be available for those who, in addition to using iCloud, will subscribe to the premium version. The bombastic news announced in the field of privacy, in short, do not apply to all applications supported by iOS, but only to those of Apple. So the Cupertino company is actually creating a preferential lane for some users – who still use its services – within which, among other things, one moves at two speeds: that of who pays and that of who does not pay. And it does not end here, because – we said – in addition to ordinary users there are companies.

If the email, browsing history and geolocation of iOS users are no longer visible for sites, applications and platforms other than those that the users themselves have chosen to see, how will advertisers actually reach these users through advertising platforms such as Facebook and the like? In concrete terms: if an Instagram or email marketing campaign provides uncertain results about who uses an iPhone, who guarantees to have hired them? And how do you understand if, on the whole, the promotion has performed or not? Here then is that the least risky solution for companies will be only one: to enter the enclosure of Apple according to its rules. Maybe by creating an application for the App Store and advertising directly on Apple systems. It is no coincidence that App Search Ads have recently been introduced, advertisements to promote apps within the App Store: “Be found where users search”, Reads the claim.

On the part of the company, this could be the response to a potential change that seems imminent in its business. The champions of the civil battles for privacy and for a better internet, who accuse Facebook of putting social stability at risk by promoting disinformation and describe themselves as unlikely, are the same that today the European Commission and the Germany bring to the dock for anti-competitive conduct. It all started with the criticisms advanced by Spotify, anticipated by Epic Games (the creator of the video game Fortnite) in the United States, for the 30% commissions applied by Apple on purchases that take place within any app. If the antitrust judges against Apple, this model will have to change and alternative sources of revenue will be needed, such as the App Search Ads.

Privacy exclusivity should come as no surprise. With the same approach, which is unclear whether antitrust authorities will judge, iPhones have always penalized non-proprietary apps. If you want to use the Alexa voice assistant you still need to activate it via Siri. You may have thought that the end-to-end encryption of the Messages app was valid for all messages – wrong, only for those exchanged from iPhone to iPhone. Would you rather use Google Drive instead of iCloud? Best wishes. The paradox, as we have already written about Wired, is that the turning point we are witnessing on the issue of privacy – probably imposed by reasons more commercial than ethical – makes not only the Apple galaxy, but the entire universe a more closed system. Closed like the prophet of the Apple cult, Steve Jobs, he had wanted since the days of the first Macintosh, way back in 1984. Thirty-seven years later his vocation is more vivid than ever. And more and more faithful, aware or not, follow it. Now the word goes to the competition authorities. Or maybe Odin.

Categories:   Internet