Apple responds to Congress on privacy, reaffirms 'the customer is not our product'

Posted:
in iPhone edited August 2018
Apple's government affairs chief has written a letter defending the company's practices on privacy and data collection, calling them "radically different" from the actions of other tech companies, like Facebook and Alphabet.

Tim Cook at WWDC


In a letter dated Tuesday, Timothy Powderly, Apple's director of federal government affairs, writes to Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, in response to questions Walden had posed to CEO Tim Cook in a July 9 letter. While the letter does not mention Facebook by name, it's fairly clear that that's who Apple is seeking to contrast themselves with.

"We believe privacy is a fundamental human right and purposely design our products and services to minimize our collection of customer data," the August 7 letter from Powderly says. "When we do collect data, we're transparent about it and work to disassociate it from the user. We utilize on-device processing to minimize data collection by Apple. The customer is not our product, and our business model does not depend on collecting vast amounts of personally identifiable information to enrich targeted profiles marketed to advertising."

The answers were consistent with what Tim Cook had said about Facebook and data in a series of recent interviews.

The letter also includes answers to questions from the committee about how Apple's location services work, as well as their data collection policies, and whether Siri's microphone functionality can have any illicit uses.

Powderly had already written a similar letter to Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Grassley's committee had held hearings in April on "Facebook, Social Media Privacy, and the Use and Abuse of Data." Those hearings, held at the height of the Cambridge Analytica brouhaha, included testimony by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

The letters, sent to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Alphabet CEO Larry Page, were written due to an increase in media reports. The reports, as well as other information provided to the lawmakers, have apparently raised questions about the privacy practices of both companies.

The letter to Google's Page included references to reports claiming Android collects user location data and sends it back to Alphabet's Google, even if users disabled the device's location services beforehand.

The letter to Cook reportedly raised fewer issues, but still queried if iPhones collect and transmit "extensive location data." Cook's previous statements and Apple's actions also "raise questions about how Apple device users' data is protected and when it is shared and compiled."

Aside from location data, the letters also wanted to know about how devices collect audio data from user conversations, and sharing that data with third parties.

The letters were signed by Chairman Greg Walden (R, OR) and subcommittee chairmen Gregg Harper (R, MS), Marsha Blackburn (R., TN), and Robert Latta (R., OH).

The request follows in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica affair, where a now-defunct political consulting firm created approximately 71 million U.S. voter profiles based on data it had harvested from Facebook without user consent in 2015. Facebook accused Analytica of violating policies, while researchers who created the quiz app behind the affair claimed that, not only did they do nothing wrong, but they were not the only party to collect data in that way.

A U.S. federal probe is underway, with the FBI, the Justice Department, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Securities and Exchange Commission said to be taking part in the investigation.

In June, it was claimed by Facebook that it had data-sharing partnerships with a number of firms, including Apple, which granted third-party access to user data before the social network made apps available for mobile devices. In response, Cook told an audience at WWDC that Apple neither requested nor received users' personal data from Facebook.

Lawmakers have questioned Apple's policies regarding privacy in the past, asking in 2017 about Apple's dealings with China over concerns it was complicit in assisting China's censorship-based regime. Answers from the company noted it adheres to laws in countries it does business within, and in relation to promoting freedom of expression and privacy rights, Apple's presence throughout the world is "the most effective way it can make a difference" in such countries.

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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 40
    Why do they keep lumping Apple with Google, Facebook and Amazon? Anyone with half a brain can tell Apple is not using the consumer as a product based on Apple's low P/E. Big investors are mainly flocking to companies which can turn customers into products. Those companies are basically able to turn air into gold by using the consumer as a product. Ultra-high share price gains and nearly unlimited growth are easy when using the consumer as a product. If Apple were using the consumer as a product, Apple could get the same high P/E as those other FANG companies. No intelligence agency is coming to Apple asking for users' personal data. Congress is rather stupid if they don't know a data-harvesting company when they see one. Even so, the Feds aren't even bothering to regulate those data-harvesting companies where everyone knows they're using personal data to give to other companies. The companies that use private data are outperforming all other companies and the big investors are happy about it. Facebook shareholders are already getting back what they lost, that's how much Wall Street worships Zuckerberg's company. User privacy is a joke. Most consumers love to have those digital assistant spying devices all throughout their houses. No thanks, I don't want them listening to everything that's being said.
    dewmeviclauyycmagman1979macxpressracerhomie3baconstangsmiffy31williamlondonStrangeDayswatto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 40
    Why do they keep lumping Apple with Google, Facebook and Amazon? Anyone with half a brain can tell Apple is not using the consumer as a product based on Apple's low P/E. Big investors are mainly flocking to companies which can turn customers into products. Those companies are basically able to turn air into gold by using the consumer as a product. Ultra-high share price gains and nearly unlimited growth are easy when using the consumer as a product. If Apple were using the consumer as a product, Apple could get the same high P/E as those other FANG companies. No intelligence agency is coming to Apple asking for users' personal data. Congress is rather stupid if they don't know a data-harvesting company when they see one. Even so, the Feds aren't even bothering to regulate those data-harvesting companies where everyone knows they're using personal data to give to other companies. The companies that use private data are outperforming all other companies and the big investors are happy about it. Facebook shareholders are already getting back what they lost, that's how much Wall Street worships Zuckerberg's company. User privacy is a joke. Most consumers love to have those digital assistant spying devices all throughout their houses. No thanks, I don't want them listening to everything that's being said.
    I guess because they're all tech sector companies. 

    That being said, Apple's stance on privacy makes me so happy to be an Apple user and makes me want to not look elsewhere
    chasmwilliamlondonwatto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 3 of 40
    wood1208wood1208 Posts: 1,696member
    Apple is no evil. They just make best products and ask for respect and customer privacy is at the the top. If Congress wants to go after than plenty companies who sell customer data. You know who they are !!
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 40
    SoliSoli Posts: 8,432member
    I feel like the phrase "the customer is not our product" is either not understood or has been said so much that it's now just noise being uttered without any real meaning to people that don't like to consider the details (i.e.: non-intellectual types).

    I also think one could argue that Zuckerberg could also say "the customer is not our product" because the billion plus people that use FB are the product, and that the advertising firms are the customers.

    Cook's long-form statement is clear, but I think he still needs a succinct affirmation that doesn't use the commonplace and incomplete mantra. Perhaps something like, "we do not profit from your personal data," "we don't sell user data to advertisers," "human beings are our customers, not advertisers." Or, just getting right down to the nitty-gritty and stating that it's in Apple's best financial interest to keep user data as safe and secure as possible.
    edited August 2018 d_2GG1watto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 40
    nunzynunzy Posts: 662member
    Phil Schiller does an excellent job.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 40
    irelandireland Posts: 17,490member
    I should hope they value our privacy considering what they are charging for their products. Even squeezing us for iCloud change.
    edited August 2018 williamlondon
  • Reply 7 of 40
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 4,517member
    ireland said:
    I should hope they value our privacy considering what they are charging for their products. Even squeezing us for iCloud change.
    And that’s why you’re paying. If you don’t care about your privacy then use Google, though I don’t think it’s that much cheaper. 
    baconstanglamboaudi4uraharawilliamlondonStrangeDayswatto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 8 of 40
    dewmedewme Posts: 1,858member
    Why do they keep lumping Apple with Google, Facebook and Amazon? 
    I have the same question. It's like you have two neighbors. One neighbor has a dog that runs into your yard and bites you on the leg. Your immediate response is to go pounding on the second neighbor's door and start yelling at him about keeping his dog restrained. But the second neighbor doesn't even own a dog. The fact that this inquiry is coming solely from one party affiliation makes me think it may simply be a noisy diversion or political theatre. Rather than going full beast mode on Facebook, which at this point would be entirely justifiable, they're playing games and acting like tough guys against Apple. None of this stuff makes any sense. 
    edited August 2018 baconstanglostkiwiwatto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 40
    Even though it’s generally known that Apple doesn’t profit from mining and selling user information, these committees HAVE to ask Apple how/what they collect. If only to document how Apple does things. This is actually a good opportunity for Apple to differentiate itself from the others. 
    dkhaleywatto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 40
    SoliSoli Posts: 8,432member
    Rayz2016 said:
    ireland said:
    I should hope they value our privacy considering what they are charging for their products. Even squeezing us for iCloud change.
    And that’s why you’re paying. If you don’t care about your privacy then use Google, though I don’t think it’s that much cheaper. 
    I seem to recall a fairly recent article (somewhere) detailing the different options available to Apple users and that iCloud came out to be cheaper or the same price as less integrated options with arguably worse privacy protections for at least one data tier.


    edit: This is kind of tricky when you're only looking at the amount of storage at the lowest price without any other consideration at play.


    Dropbox is $9.99 per month (when billed monthly or $8.25 per month average when billed annually) for 1 TiB of storage, Google Drive is also $9.99 for 1 TiB of storage, MS OneDrive is only $6.99 per month (when billed monthly or $6.99 when billed annually) for 1 TiB of storage, and iCloud is $9.99 per month for 2 TiB of storage.

    iCloud doesn't offer an annual contract option for an 17% discount like Dropbox and ObeDrive, but they do offer double the data for that base price. iCloud also offers a 200 GiB storage option for $2.99 per month. OneDrive does offer 50 GiB for $1.99 per month, but iCloud is only 99¢ per month for 50 GiB

    So, looking only at the storage and no other feature, if you need less than 50 GiB is the least expensive at 99¢ per month (. If you need more than 50 GiB but less than 100 GiB then Google Drive is the least expensive. If you need more than 100 GiB but less than 200 GiB iCloud is again the least expensive option at $2.99. If you need more than 200 GiB up to 1 TiB OneDrive then becomes the least expensive. If you need more than 1TiB up to 2 TiB then iCloud again becomes the least expensive at $9.99 per month.


    edit 2:

    Per GB* costs for various plans (ordered by cost):

    • MS OneDrive 5000 GB (annual billing) = 0.2¢
    • MS OneDrive 5000 GB (monthly billing) = 0.2¢
    • iCloud 2000 GB = 0.5¢
    • MS OneDrive 1000 GB (annual billing)= 0.6¢
    • MS OneDrive 1000 GB (monthly billing) = 0.7¢
    • Dropbox 1000 GB (monthly billing) = 0.8¢
    • Google Drive 10,000 GB = 1¢
    • Google Drive 1000 GB = 1¢
    • Dropbox 1000 GB (annual billing) = 1¢
    • iCloud 200 GB = 1¢
    • iCloud 50 GB = 2¢
    • Google Drive 100 GB = 2¢
    • MS OneDrive 50 GB = 4¢


    Per GB* costs for various plans (ordered by capacity):

    • iCloud 50 GB = 2¢
    • MS OneDrive 50 GB = 4¢

    • Google Drive 100 GB = 2¢

    • iCloud 200 GB = 1¢

    • MS OneDrive 1000 GB (annual billing)= 0.6¢
    • MS OneDrive 1000 GB (monthly billing) = 0.7¢
    • Dropbox 1000 GB (monthly billing) = 0.8¢
    • Dropbox 1000 GB (annual billing) = 1¢
    • Google Drive 1000 GB = 1¢

    • iCloud 2000 GB = 0.5¢

    • MS OneDrive 5000 GB (annual billing) = 0.2¢
    • MS OneDrive 5000 GB (monthly billing) = 0.2¢

    • Google Drive 10,000 GB = 1¢

    Is that correct?

    * Using decimal, not binary for these calculations. It will affect the cost slightly but likely not be an issue since I'm rounding to the nearest tenth of a cent, and will not affect cost rankings.

    edited August 2018 Folio
  • Reply 11 of 40
    anomeanome Posts: 1,196member
    Soli said:
    I feel like the phrase "the customer is not our product" is either not understood or has been said so much that it's now just noise being uttered without any real meaning to people that don't like to consider the details (i.e.: non-intellectual types).

    I also think one could argue that Zuckerberg could also say "the customer is not our product" because the billion plus people that use FB are the product, and that the advertising firms are the customers.

    Cook's long-form statement is clear, but I think he still needs a succinct affirmation that doesn't use the commonplace and incomplete mantra. Perhaps something like, "we do not profit from your personal data," "we don't sell user data to advertisers," "human beings are our customers, not advertisers." Or, just getting right down to the nitty-gritty and stating that it's in Apple's best financial interest to keep user data as safe and secure as possible.
    A better way to phrase it would be "The user is not our product." Although the distinction between customer and user is only significant with something like Facebook or Google, where they make most of their money out of selling user eyeballs to advertising companies. (Metaphorically, that is. Although nothing would surprise me at this point.)
    SoliStrangeDayswatto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 40
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 19,677member
    wood1208 said:
    Apple is no evil. They just make best products and ask for respect and customer privacy is at the the top. If Congress wants to go after than plenty companies who sell customer data. You know who they are !!
    Sadly you probably DON'T  know who they are. They tend to fly under the radar
  • Reply 13 of 40
    slurpyslurpy Posts: 5,074member
    ireland said:
    I should hope they value our privacy considering what they are charging for their products. Even squeezing us for iCloud change.
    Flagship Android devices cost just as much as iPhones. Same with high end laptops, tablets, etc. It's a tired meme that Apple products cost significantly more. When comparing apples to apples, the price difference is negligible or non-existent. People happily pay just as much or more for a Samsung phone, that runs an OS created by an advertising company that monetizes every single piece of data you give it. Maybe those products deserve a bit more scrutiny. 
    baconstanglamboaudi4uraharawilliamlondonStrangeDayswatto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 40
    SoliSoli Posts: 8,432member
    anome said:
    Soli said:
    I feel like the phrase "the customer is not our product" is either not understood or has been said so much that it's now just noise being uttered without any real meaning to people that don't like to consider the details (i.e.: non-intellectual types).

    I also think one could argue that Zuckerberg could also say "the customer is not our product" because the billion plus people that use FB are the product, and that the advertising firms are the customers.

    Cook's long-form statement is clear, but I think he still needs a succinct affirmation that doesn't use the commonplace and incomplete mantra. Perhaps something like, "we do not profit from your personal data," "we don't sell user data to advertisers," "human beings are our customers, not advertisers." Or, just getting right down to the nitty-gritty and stating that it's in Apple's best financial interest to keep user data as safe and secure as possible.
    A better way to phrase it would be "The user is not our product." Although the distinction between customer and user is only significant with something like Facebook or Google, where they make most of their money out of selling user eyeballs to advertising companies. (Metaphorically, that is. Although nothing would surprise me at this point.)
    👍
    "We sell iPhones not eyeballs"
    edited August 2018 anomebaconstangStrangeDayswatto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 40
    ...ironically today I have just reset two iPhones... Both would not set up without a sim card nor my apple id (personally identifiable?), and then both activated iCloud with every attempt not to select such, presumably linking to every detail apple has on account... 'Find my iPhone' was on without any consent. Siri does not offer a 'no thanks' but only a 'set up later'. Handoff is on. Airdrop for contacts is on. All data including iCloud backup and iCloud drive is on. Syncing to iTunes is on. All notes, contacts, music choices, etc are to be sent to iCloud 'on'. Is this an example of 'opt in' ? How does this 'minimize' the collection of customer data? When I installed W10 as egregious as the 'send to MS' settings were I could actually set it up disconnected from the internet and turn it all off (I don't use W10 save a few needed apps) and so I was able to reset all privacy settings to my preference and presumably before linking to corporate servers... The length of the Apple terms and references has me asking why so much verbiage is even necessary? I made screen shots of the seemingly inescapable 'all roads lead to Apple servers' settings I experienced today if there is a way to post them... If you don't believe me I would encourage you to simply try it for yourselves...? Compare this to vinyl, a radio or CD player and does it beg the potential erosion (frog boiling) privacy creep question...?
    edited August 2018 gatorguywilliamlondon
  • Reply 16 of 40
    irelandireland Posts: 17,490member
    Rayz2016 said:
    ireland said:
    I should hope they value our privacy considering what they are charging for their products. Even squeezing us for iCloud change.
    And that’s why you’re paying. If you don’t care about your privacy then use Google, though I don’t think it’s that much cheaper. 
    When did I say i don't care about privacy?
    williamlondon
  • Reply 17 of 40
    ...ironically today I have just reset two iPhones... Both would not set up without a sim card nor my apple id (personally identifiable?), and then both activated iCloud with every attempt not to select such, presumably linking to every detail apple has on account... 'Find my iPhone' was on without any consent. Siri does not offer a 'no thanks' but only a 'set up later'. Handoff is on. Airdrop for contacts is on. All data including iCloud backup and iCloud drive is on. Syncing to iTunes is on. All notes, contacts, music choices, etc are to be sent to iCloud 'on'. Is this an example of 'opt in' ?
    Yes, you need a SIM card installed to activate an iPhone, but it can be a “dummy” SIM that no longer has/never had a phone number tied to it. I have set up hundreds if not thousands of iPhones without entering an AppleID. When you do that all the settings that you saw as “on” won’t be. 

    I’m not sure what your issue with Handoff, AirDrop and FMi being on is. 

    Most of the iCloud sync options are what people are thankful for if they ever have an issue with their phone and it needs to be erased or replaced. In fact, Sunday night my wife’s cousin was frantically texting me that she purchased an iPhone 8, left the store without finishing setup because her kids were not behaving and couldn’t get her contacts to download. Her photos and music were fine. 

    Those settings are not frequent territory for “normals”, and in my experience they’re usually pretty happy they were on without their knowing. 

    That said, do you for some reason not believe Apple when they say they aren’t data mining for profit? That seems to be what you’re implying. 
    edited August 2018 williamlondonStrangeDayswatto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 40
    mcdavemcdave Posts: 1,010member
    Why do they keep lumping Apple with Google, Facebook and Amazon? Anyone with half a brain can tell Apple is not using the consumer as a product based on Apple's low P/E. Big investors are mainly flocking to companies which can turn customers into products. Those companies are basically able to turn air into gold by using the consumer as a product. Ultra-high share price gains and nearly unlimited growth are easy when using the consumer as a product. If Apple were using the consumer as a product, Apple could get the same high P/E as those other FANG companies. No intelligence agency is coming to Apple asking for users' personal data. Congress is rather stupid if they don't know a data-harvesting company when they see one. Even so, the Feds aren't even bothering to regulate those data-harvesting companies where everyone knows they're using personal data to give to other companies. The companies that use private data are outperforming all other companies and the big investors are happy about it. Facebook shareholders are already getting back what they lost, that's how much Wall Street worships Zuckerberg's company. User privacy is a joke. Most consumers love to have those digital assistant spying devices all throughout their houses. No thanks, I don't want them listening to everything that's being said.
    Watch how this plays out.  This’ll be an ellaborate dance to vilify spying by roping Apple in to show ‘all tech companies do it so be OK with it’.  Governments also want access to our personal data for their own reasons (pre-terrorist profiling but not the kind you’re thinking of) so they need people to be OK with the people/data harvesters which we will be once this exercise is over.
  • Reply 19 of 40
    iqatedoiqatedo Posts: 1,587member
    I too trust Apple in this regard. However, Apple markets at least one product that breaks the mould. This kitchen scale is simply hardware that should only require an iOS driver to access. Too easy but no, a customer is required to create an account with the (third-party) vendor before gaining access. This is patently unacceptable. (An account was not required initially and only introduced some time later.)

    https://www.apple.com/au/shop/product/HFZW2LL/A/drop-connected-kitchen-scale?fnode=cf89ae5c8ddc696bf4e8ddb47a36938176bf487ae69ef84a0013b76f74247acee883e9474695daaabcf3c1cce18c2d8296e9edb4ce4c4e6221234ac39f3455b3dc630934c6e1ca153cf4060304a1ebcd85c5037e33ef411af43e17a3fec2fd41


  • Reply 20 of 40
    mcdavemcdave Posts: 1,010member
    Soli said:
    I feel like the phrase "the customer is not our product" is either not understood or has been said so much that it's now just noise being uttered without any real meaning to people that don't like to consider the details (i.e.: non-intellectual types).

    I also think one could argue that Zuckerberg could also say "the customer is not our product" because the billion plus people that use FB are the product, and that the advertising firms are the customers.

    Cook's long-form statement is clear, but I think he still needs a succinct affirmation that doesn't use the commonplace and incomplete mantra. Perhaps something like, "we do not profit from your personal data," "we don't sell user data to advertisers," "human beings are our customers, not advertisers." Or, just getting right down to the nitty-gritty and stating that it's in Apple's best financial interest to keep user data as safe and secure as possible.
    “We sell our customers our products, we don’t sell our customers as products”.
    Solibaconstanguraharawatto_cobra
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