Apple products get more personal – and private – and piss off the NSA

Fire up the new Apple News service for the first time on your iPhone, and it’ll ask for your favorite topics and news outlets. Use it over time, and you’ll find that it is behaving like your personal news recommendation engine.

Read a lot about gardening, and you’ll see more stories about hardy perennials. Click on every story about the Red Sox? Get ready for more bullpen analysis. But eventually you may start to wonder — just how much does this app know about me?

You may think you know the answer, given that we live in a world where our every click and scroll is obsessively tracked by tech companies eager to sell us personalized ads. Apple, too, has been employing a small amount of targeted advertising since at least 2010.

But in a revamped privacy policy Web site, a copy of which was reviewed by The Washington Post, Apple on Tuesday attempts to lay out how its philosophy on data collection distinguishes itself from its tech industry rivals.

In essence, the company is telling customers it is not interested in their personal data, even as it must use more of that data to deliver personalized products…

Apple News, which can deliver a stream of headlines right onto one of the home screens of the iPhone, launched this month into a crowded space. Tech giants such as Google, Facebook and Twitter have long been using algorithms to serve piping hot headlines from the Web to consumers while using their reading habits to enhance the vast trove of data the companies keep on every user.

Apple’s offering is different in that its stories are also curated by a small team of journalists. And the company clearly hopes a selling point will be its pledges on privacy protection.

“We don’t build a profile based on your email content or web browsing habits to sell to advertisers,” chief executive Tim Cook wrote in a letter that introduced its privacy Web site last year. “We don’t ‘monetize’ the information you store on your iPhone or in iCloud.”

Apple made substantial updates last fall to its privacy policies and the revamped Web site launching Tuesday offers new details and language on several topics. It is broken down into several sections — such as how it handles information requests from the authorities including the National Security Agency, instructions on how to secure devices from, say, third parties which may be interested in tracking behavior, and how some of Apple’s services work…

A new section on the Apple News app states that it collects data on what each user is reading so it can offer personalized headlines and ads. But the service does not tie reading habits to an Apple account and uses a unique identifier — which functions only within the News app — to send you targeted ads. Readers can also remove a record of their reading history from their device.

It works just like Apple Pay – which is why we love Apple Pay. No chance of anyone from a checkout clerk to the NSA accessing any personal info about the transaction.

In a separate section, the company laid out new language on encrpytion. Last year, Apple made it impossible for the company to turn over data from a customer’s iPhones or iPads — even when authorities have a search warrant — if users turn off automatic back-ups to the company’s servers. The policy has generated protests from police departments and Obama administration officials.

The new language doesn’t mention law enforcement, but the debate over Apple’s decision last fall motivated the company to spell out its thinking on encryption…“Encryption protects trillions of online transactions every day. Whether you’re shopping or paying a bill, you’re using encryption. It turns your data into indecipherable text that can only be read by the right key… And we can’t unlock your device for anyone because you hold the key — your unique password. We’re committed to using powerful encryption because you should know that the data on your device and the information you share with others is protected.”

There’s an interesting discussion at the end of this article about educated consumers coming down on the side of privacy. Hopefully, such questions will make a difference to voters, as well.

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