Privacy takes a backseat during Apple product reveal

Apple CEO Tim Cook on stage at the Apple product announcement event Wednesday.

CNET

Apple has made a name for itself — even taking on the federal government — with its efforts to protect user privacy.

That’s why it was notable that it didn’t make any major statements about keeping your data safe at its big product reveal event on Wednesday.

Sure, the security of your health data on Apple Watch came up. So did the secure enclave on Apple’s A-12 microprocessor, which protects the FaceID biometric login system. But there was no major privacy focus. The biggest statement on privacy came from Apple’s chief operating officer Jeff Williams.

“We believe your personal information belongs to you,” he said. “You should decide who you share it with and who gets to see, period.”

That broad statement led into a minor announcement that your health data on Apple Watch, which is now capable of taking an electrocardiogram while on your wrist, is encrypted both on the device and in the cloud.

In short, Apple presented privacy on Wednesday as just one more thing your iPhone or Apple Watch can give you, alongside a bigger display, longer battery life and computer driven photography.

That departs from Apple’s past public statements on privacy, which have painted keeping your data safe as one of the company’s most important values. In 2016, the company refused to write code that would let the US Federal Bureau of Investigations access the iPhone 5C of a mass shooter, arguing that the code’s very existence would put other iPhone users at risk from hackers. And in June, the company announced it would introduce features in its Safari browser that could disable tracking tools used by fellow tech giants like Facebook and Twitter to keep tabs on its users’ browsing habits.

The company has taken that approach since news broke of the NSA’s dragnet surveillance programs, which relied on a flow of information from tech companies — some of which required tech giants to provide user information and some of which relied on weaknesses in their systems to collect it without companies knowing. 

Apple user data that remains on iPhones can’t be easily handed over to governments or hacked from Apple’s servers. Apple can hand over data that users upload data to their iCloud accounts, and iPhones typically sync to those accounts by default, but users can opt out. What’s more, the company says it works to anonymize the data it uses to personalize apps and target advertising.

The approach put Apple ahead of the game when Facebook was caught up in a data privacy scandal this April that left consumers increasingly uneasy with just how much data Silicon Valley companies are collecting on them, and sharing with third parties.

On Wednesday, those anxieties received no more than a few tips of the hat. Calling FaceID “secure and seamless,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said of the login technology, “It is the most secure facial authentication ever in a smartphone.”

Apple Sept. 12 iPhone XS live blog and livestream

See everything that Apple has announced at its Sept. 12 event so far

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