• United States



Your privacy and Apple, Microsoft and Google

Sep 29, 20155 mins
Data and Information SecuritySecurity

Apple updated its privacy policy, and Microsoft finally addressed the Windows 10 privacy backlash. Google will let companies use email addresses for ad targeting on YouTube, Gmail, and Google search.

eye on computer monitor showing privacy security or breach
Credit: Thinkstock

Within a span of a few days, two of three giants in the tech industry made changes that could directly affect your privacy; the third tried to clear up “privacy and Windows 10.”

Apple updates privacy policy, releases iOS security guide

Today Apple published an updated privacy policy that explains, in detailed but easy-to-understand language, how it uses customers’ data. It begins with a message about Apple’s commitment to your privacy from Apple CEO Tim Cook. He promised Apple never “worked with any government agency from any country to create a backdoor in any of our products or services. We have also never allowed access to our servers. And we never will.” Apple also revealed that 94% of the government data requests it receives deal with cops trying to find stolen iPhones.

Regarding encryption, Apple wrote, “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.” Again, the company said it refuses to add a backdoor to its products, adding, “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 the data on your device and the information you share with others is protected.”

Cook also took a jab at Google’s business model by reiterating that Apple doesn’t build user profiles based on browsing habits or email contents and then sell that data to advertisers. Apple, unlike Google, also handles its map service differently. “Helping you get from Point A to Point B matters a great deal to us, but knowing the history of all your Point A’s and Point B’s doesn’t.”

“The most personal technology must also be the most private,” Apple said. The company provided tools to manage your privacy. If you dive into it, you can find detailed explanations for how Apple services use your data. Apple claimed, “We believe that privacy first requires good security,” and provided even more details in a new 60-page iOS Security Guide (pdf).

Microsoft on privacy and Windows 10

This summer Microsoft proudly announced its new privacy policy and allegedly understandable and straightforward terms of service; shortly thereafter it launched Windows 10, which had snooping permissions-from-hell enabled by default in express installation settings. Yesterday, Microsoft’s Terry Myerson addressed “privacy and Windows 10,” assuring users that “no other company is more committed, more transparent and listening harder to customers” on the important topic of privacy.

Basically, Microsoft’s executive vice president of the Windows and devices group reiterated what is in the privacy policy and addressed telemetry data collection. He tried to reassure users that Microsoft only collects data to make products work better and that users can control what is collected.

It’s unknown if the post will have any impact on the Windows 10 privacy backlash; “trust” may be “a core pillar” of Microsoft’s vision, but it has taken a long time for the company to respond, and not all issues were addressed.

Microsoft also couldn’t resist taking a swing a Google, as Myerson wrote, “Unlike some other platforms, no matter what privacy options you choose, neither Windows 10 nor any other Microsoft software scans the content of your email or other communications, or your files, in order to deliver targeted advertising to you.”

Google to use email addresses for ad targeting on YouTube, Gmail, search

Speaking of Google, on Sunday the company announced that users’ email addresses are fair game for advertisers to use for ad targeting.

Google’s Sridhar Ramaswamy, SVP of Ads and Commerce, told advertisers that “Customer Match is a new product designed to help you reach your highest-value customers on Google Search, YouTube, and Gmail — when it matters most. Customer Match allows you to upload a list of email addresses, which can be matched to signed-in users on Google in a secure and privacy-safe way. From there, you can build campaigns and ads specifically designed to reach your audience.”

Put another way, Customer Match means retailers can upload the email address you use when you make a purchase in a store or from a website to Google for the purpose of targeting ads. Companies can also use your email address if you sign up for some kind of reward/loyalty program in a physical store, or if you sign up to receive marketing messages via a company’s app. If you sign into Google using that same email addy, then the retailer can target you with ads while you are using YouTube, Gmail, or Google search.

Google also made Universal App Campaigns available to advertisers and developers in order for them to “connect with app users across Google Search, Google Play, YouTube, and the Google Display Network (GDN).” Ramaswamy gave the following example:

Let’s say you’ve built an adventure game. With Universal App Campaigns, you have unparalleled reach: you can drive installs on YouTube, the platform with 1B+ users who watch hundreds of millions of hours of content everyday. Your ads can also reach specific audiences across 650K apps and 2M+ websites in the GDN. And importantly, Universal App Campaigns tap into intent-rich searches like “adventure games” and “puzzle games” that are happening throughout the day on Google Search and Google Play so your app can be seen when people are looking to download something new.

If any of that sounds a bit familiar, then that’s because it’s very similar to what Facebook already offers advertisers.

ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.