A Critical Look at Apple’s Privacy Record

Laboni Bayen is a researcher for the Tech Transparency Project. Shutterstock Apple CEO Tim Cook has said protecting people’s privacy is “one of the most essential battles of our time.” The iPhone giant has built a well-oiled PR campaign around its privacy agenda, setting itself apart from data-hungry tech rivals like Google and Meta. From billboards to punchy ad campaigns, Apple assures its customers that their data is safe—and that privacy is a human right.  But a closer look at Apple’s record shows that the company’s carefully cultivated reputation as a privacy champion doesn’t always stand up to scrutiny.  Take Advanced Data Protection, the new security feature that Apple launched in the US late last year. Dubbed a “Digital Fort Knox,” it applies end-to-end encryption to messages, photos, and documents stored on Apple’s cloud platform, iCloud. That’s considered the gold standard for encryption, shielding data from hackers, law enforcement, and even Apple itself. Some privacy experts welcomed Advanced Data Protection, calling it an important step toward protecting users from mass surveillance and data leaks. But the security feature—and Apple’s rollout of it—have some major deficiencies: Advanced Data Protection isn’t automatically turned on, and Apple took no apparent steps to alert users to the new feature through icons (as it does for software updates) or pop-up messages (as it does with app tracking requests). That means many people may be unaware that it even exists. For those motivated to turn on Advanced Data Protection, it may not be easy to find…A Critical Look at Apple’s Privacy Record