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Apples new privacy page hammers home long-time focus

https://appleinsider.com/articles/19/11/06/apples-annual-privacy-page-update-hammers-home-long-time-focus

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Apple has updated its official privacy site with explanatory overviews of hot-button topics such as being tracked by your phone, and having messages intercepted. Plus it’s added four white papers with technical details of its privacy elements.

Apple has redesigned its privacy website to give quick overview primers, and more detailed white papers

Apple has redesigned its privacy website to give quick overview primers, and more detailed white papers

The page, simply titled Privacy, has existed for some time and contained much of the same information, most notably including instructions for how users can request a copy of all the data Apple stores about them. The new redesign, however, first breaks the topics down into simpler, clearer descriptions.

It seems intended to give concerned, if inexperienced, users a fast way to grasp the issues —and to see Apple as being different to all its competitors.

Alongside the chiefly rewritten explanatory introductions, however, Apple has also provided four detailed white papers. These cover privacy issues in Location Services, Photos, Safari web browsing, and the new Sign-In with Apple.

The papers total over 40 pages of information about Apple policies and specifics of how the company uses which technologies in what circumstances or with which devices.

By themselves, these papers and the revised primer are a clear, comprehensive guide to issues that are increasingly concerning everyone. However, they’re also only the latest round in Apple’s ambition to increase awareness both of privacy and of its role in protecting us.

It’s an ambition that has most recently seen Tim Cook become increasingly politically vocal, but it started way back with Steve Jobs.

One of Apple's new primers on Privacy, as shown on its redesigned site.

One of Apple’s new primers on Privacy, as shown on its redesigned site.

Apple’s privacy push

Tim Cook repeatedly says that privacy is central to Apple, and often adds that the company considers privacy right from the very start of designing any product. You might think that’s right or you might think it’s hype, but Apple has definitely been talking up privacy for a long time.

It’s unlikely that Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak considered Cambridge Analytica type privacy back during the days of the Apple II. But Jobs definitely thought about it.

In 2010, he was interviewed at a Wall Street Journal in front of an audience that, as he and the presenters acknowledged, included Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

“We’ve always had a very different view of privacy than some of our… colleagues,” he said. “We take privacy extremely seriously. Privacy means people know what they’re signing up for, in plain English and repeatedly.”

“I believe people are smart and some people want to share more data than other people do,” he continued. “Ask them. Ask them every time. Make them tell you to stop asking them if they get tired of your asking them. Let them know precisely what you’re going to do with their data.”

Even as Jobs effectively launched Apple’s stance on privacy in that interview, the company was already seeing a commercial advantage to being rigidly protective of user data.

Around this same time, Jobs was visiting publishers in an attempt to get them to put their news sites on the iPad‘s special news section, and they were resisting. A part of that resistance, which would be repeated years later over Apple News+, was that Apple wanted to take a cut of revenue.

However, a greater part was that in that scenario, readers would be Apple customers —and Apple would not release any user data without that user’s explicit permission. Knowing your audience, and being able to market to them, is key, and while Apple was protecting us all from unwanted advertising, it was able to do as much marketing to us as it liked.

Nonetheless, Apple did keep adding features, especially to iOS, that were specifically to help us keep control over our own privacy choices. This only increased when Tim Cook permanently took over from Steve Jobs in 2011.

Some privacy moves that Cook introduced were inspired by the discovery in 2013 of an app named Path which had passed approvals and so was on the App Store, but was illicitly taking user data.

Under Cook, the Settings app in iOS 6 added a whole new Privacy section which gave the ability to toggle on or off permissions for apps to use certain data. Then iOS 7 added the activation lock, which meant you needed the original Apple ID and password of a device, even if you’ve completely erased it.

As well as helping make your data on the device secure, because no one could get around the activation lock, police also later said that the feature had led to a significant drop in iPhone thefts.

It was now 2013, and Apple was not just adding features to its software, it was beginning to try raising awareness in general. Apple introduced an annual Transparency Report, which details what it has done about privacy in the year —and precisely how many government requests for data it’s received.

If you’d been paying attention to security, and most people were not, then Apple would’ve been looking pretty good at this point.

Until it was revealed that the NSA was using iPhone spyware and suddenly Apple’s claims of independence and privacy were being doubted.

Tim Cook denied being complicit with the NSA and issued a statement:

Apple has never worked with the NSA to create a backdoor in any of our products, including iPhone. Additionally, we have been unaware of this alleged NSA program targeting our products. We care deeply about our customers’ privacy and security. Our team is continuously working to make our products even more secure, and we make it easy for customers to keep their software up to date with the latest advancements. Whenever we hear about attempts to undermine Apple’s industry-leading security, we thoroughly investigate and take appropriate steps to protect our customers. We will continue to use our resources to stay ahead of malicious hackers and defend our customers from security attacks, regardless of who’s behind them.

“Celebgate”

There was still the issue of how the NSA could get by Apple’s security, but then the very next year it briefly appeared as if just about anyone could. In what became known as Celebgate, the personal and intimate photos of 200 celebrities were seemingly taken as hackers got into iCloud.

They didn’t. It was done by phishing, these celebrities were each conned into handing over enough information for their iCloud accounts to be opened.

Try telling that to a public and, especially, a press just relishing a story with Apple, Hollywood celebrities, and intimate photos. Tim Cook certainly tried.

Detail from one of Apple's new White Papers on Privacy.

Detail from one of Apple’s new White Papers on Privacy.

After it all blew over, though, Cook became more reflective.

When I step back from this terrible scenario that happened and say what more could we have done, I think about the awareness piece,” he told the Wall Street Journal. “I think we have a responsibility to ratchet that up.”

“That’s not really an engineering thing,” he continued. “We want to do everything we can do to protect our customers, because we are as outraged if not more so than they are.”

San Bernardino, the iPhone 5c, and the FBI

Celebgate is the reason you now get emailed whenever you log into iCloud from an unknown device. But it is not why the issue of Apple and privacy was ratcheted up. Arguably all the attention Apple gets today about privacy stems from December 2, 2015, and the San Bernardino attack.

During the FBI‘s investigation of that incident, it first requested and then increasingly pressed Apple to help. Specifically, it wanted Apple to make a new version of iOS that they could open to read the phone data of any suspects they needed. And Apple said no.

In retrospect, it was a clear continuation of everything Jobs and then Cook had said, but at the time, throughout early 2016, it was seen as Apple versus the FBI. The Bureau painted this as Apple being on the side of criminals, and in a public statement, Apple painted it as their being on the side of our civil liberties.

The United States government has demanded that Apple take an unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers. We oppose this order, which has implications far beyond the legal case at hand.

This moment calls for public discussion, and we want our customers and people around the country to understand what is at stake.

The statement, a letter by Tim Cook, is still available on Apple’s site, and it takes very careful steps through the argument that any backdoor would ultimately be exploited by criminals.

Through a mixture of technology, security and that “awareness piece” that Cook described, Apple won the day and the FBI backed down.

Since then, Cook has said publicly that he wishes the case against the FBI had gone to court, and since then he has been increasingly vocal about privacy issues, most noticeably this year.

Las Vegas privacy billboard

Just a few days into 2019, Apple, which was not exhibiting at the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show, nonetheless displayed a billboard ad about privacy there.

Las Vegas billboard ad. (Photo: Chris Velazco via Twitter)

Las Vegas billboard ad. (Photo: Chris Velazco via Twitter)

Then at WWDC, Apple announced new measures to protect the privacy of children. It has added tougher privacy provisions to iOS 13 to make messaging apps work more security.

It’s also had its problems this year, as along with the likes of Google Home and Amazon Alexa, Apple’s Siri was revealed to record users requests and have staff analyse them. It was all anonymised, it was all in the ambition of improving Siri’s accuracy, but it backfired.

Apple might again say that this was about awareness more than engineering, though. It said that it would cease using the recordings and review its policies. Then, it actually did cease using them, and it really did revise its policies. And this is why you are now asked permission to let Siri use recordings in this way.

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has previously described Apple’s attitudes to privacy as being “glib,” and suggesting that it’s fine to have a high horse when you’ve got all that money.

He does have a point, even if his firm is not exactly destitute either. You can see Apple as being on the side of the angels in all this. Or you can more cynically see it as making a profitable virtue out of the fact that it’s always made its money though selling devices instead of through selling data about its users.

Either way, though, you can’t argue that Apple is jumping on a bandwagon. Apple’s been publicly vehement about privacy for at least the last decade, and the newly redesigned Privacy website is just the latest part of that.

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These ten enterprise M&A deals totaled over $40B in 2019

It would be hard to top the 2018 enterprise M&A total of a whopping $87 billion, and predictably this year didn’t come close. In fact, the top 10 enterprise M&A deals in 2019 were less than half last year’s, totaling $40.6 billion. This year’s biggest purchase was Salesforce buying Tableau for $15.7 billion, which would…

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These ten enterprise M&A deals totaled over $40B in 2019

It would be hard to top the 2018 enterprise M&A total of a whopping $87 billion, and predictably this year didn’t come close. In fact, the top 10 enterprise M&A deals in 2019 were less than half last year’s, totaling $40.6 billion.

This year’s biggest purchase was Salesforce buying Tableau for $15.7 billion, which would have been good for third place last year behind IBM’s mega deal plucking Red Hat for $34 billion and Broadcom grabbing CA Technologies for $18.8 billion.

Contributing to this year’s quieter activity was the fact that several typically acquisitive companies — Adobe, Oracle and IBM — stayed mostly on the sidelines after big investments last year. It’s not unusual for companies to take a go-slow approach after a big expenditure year. Adobe and Oracle bought just two companies each with neither revealing the prices. IBM didn’t buy any.

Microsoft didn’t show up on this year’s list either, but still managed to pick up eight new companies. It was just that none was large enough to make the list (or even for them to publicly reveal the prices). When a publicly traded company doesn’t reveal the price, it usually means that it didn’t reach the threshold of being material to the company’s results.

As always, just because you buy it doesn’t mean it’s always going to integrate smoothly or well, and we won’t know about the success or failure of these transactions for some years to come. For now, we can only look at the deals themselves.

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Jumia, DHL, and Alibaba will face off in African ecommerce 2.0

The business of selling consumer goods and services online is a relatively young endeavor across Africa, but ecommerce is set to boom. Over the last eight years, the sector has seen its first phase of big VC fundings, startup duels and attrition. To date, scaling e-commerce in Africa has straddled the line of challenge and…

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Jumia, DHL, and Alibaba will face off in African ecommerce 2.0

The business of selling consumer goods and services online is a relatively young endeavor across Africa, but ecommerce is set to boom.

Over the last eight years, the sector has seen its first phase of big VC fundings, startup duels and attrition.

To date, scaling e-commerce in Africa has straddled the line of challenge and opportunity, perhaps more than any other market in the world. Across major African economies, many of the requisites for online retail — internet access, digital payment adoption, and 3PL delivery options — have been severely lacking.

Still, startups jumped into this market for the chance to digitize a share of Africa’s fast growing consumer spending, expected to top $2 billion by 2025.

African e-commerce 2.0 will include some old and new players, play out across more countries, place more priority on internet services, and see the entry of China.

But before highlighting several things to look out for in the future of digital-retail on the continent, a look back is beneficial.

Jumia vs. Konga

The early years for development of African online shopping largely played out in Nigeria (and to some extent South Africa). Anyone who visited Nigeria from 2012 to 2016 likely saw evidence of one of the continent’s early e-commerce showdowns. Nigeria had its own Coke vs. Pepsi-like duel — a race between ventures Konga and Jumia to out-advertise and out-discount each other in a quest to scale online shopping in Africa’s largest economy and most populous nation.

Traveling in Lagos traffic, large billboards for each startup faced off across the skyline, as their delivery motorcycles buzzed between stopped cars.

Covering each company early on, it appeared a battle of VC attrition. The challenge: who could continue to raise enough capital to absorb the losses of simultaneously capturing and creating an e-commerce market in notoriously difficult conditions.

In addition to the aforementioned challenges, Nigeria also had (and continues to have) shoddy electricity.

Both Konga — founded by Nigerian Sim Shagaya — and Jumia — originally founded by two Nigerians and two Frenchman — were forced to burn capital building fulfillment operations most e-commerce startups source to third parties.

That included their own delivery and payment services (KongaPay and JumiaPay). In addition to sales of goods from mobile-phones to diapers, both startups also began experimenting with verticals for internet based services, such as food-delivery and classifieds.

While Jumia and Konga were competing in Nigeria, there was another VC driven race for e-commerce playing out in South Africa — the continent’s second largest and most advanced economy.

E-tailers Takealot and Kalahari had been jockeying for market share since 2011 after raising capital in the hundreds of millions of dollars from investors Naspers and U.S. fund Tiger Global Management.

So how did things turn out in West and Southern Africa? In 2014, the lead investor of a flailing Kalahari — Naspers — facilitated a merger with Takealot (that was more of an acquisition). They nixed the Kalahari brand in 2016 and bought out Takelot’s largest investor, Tiger Global, in 2018. Takealot is now South Africa’s leading e-commerce site by market share, but only operates in one country.

In Nigeria, by 2016 Jumia had outpaced its rival Konga in Alexa ratings (6 vs 14), while out-raising Konga (with backing of Goldman Sachs) to become Africa’s first VC backed, startup unicorn. By early 2018, Konga was purchased in a distressed acquisition and faded away as a competitor to Jumia.

Jumia went on to expand online goods and services verticals into 14 Africa countries (though it recently exited a few) and in April 2019 raised over $200 million in an NYSE IPO — the first on a major exchange for a VC-backed startup operating in Africa.

Jumia’s had bumpy road since going public — losing significant share-value after a short-sell attack earlier in 2019 — but the continent’s leading e-commerce company still has heap of capital and generates $100 million in revenues (even with losses).

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Airbnb’s New Year’s Eve guest volume shows its falling growth rate

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between. It’s finally 2020, the year that should bring us a direct listing from home-sharing giant Airbnb, a technology company valued at tens of billions of dollars. The company’s flotation will be a key event in…

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Airbnb’s New Year’s Eve guest volume shows its falling growth rate

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

It’s finally 2020, the year that should bring us a direct listing from home-sharing giant Airbnb, a technology company valued at tens of billions of dollars. The company’s flotation will be a key event in this coming year’s technology exit market. Expect the NYSE and Nasdaq to compete for the listing, bankers to queue to take part, and endless media coverage.

Given that that’s ahead, we’re going to take periodic looks at Airbnb as we tick closer to its eventual public market debut. And that means that this morning we’re looking back through time to see how fast the company has grown by using a quirky data point.

Airbnb releases a regular tally of its expected “guest stays” for New Year’s Eve each year, including 2019. We can therefore look back in time, tracking how quickly (or not) Airbnb’s New Year Eve guest tally has risen. This exercise will provide a loose, but fun proxy for the company’s growth as a whole.

The numbers

Before we look into the figures themselves, keep in mind that we are looking at a guest figure which is at best a proxy for revenue. We don’t know the revenue mix of the guest stays, for example, meaning that Airbnb could have seen a 10% drop in per-guest revenue this New Year’s Eve — even with more guest stays — and we’d have no idea.

So, the cliche about grains of salt and taking, please.

But as more guests tends to mean more rentals which points towards more revenue, the New Year’s Eve figures are useful as we work to understand how quickly Airbnb is growing now compared to how fast it grew in the past. The faster the company is expanding today, the more it’s worth. And given recent news that the company has ditched profitability in favor of boosting its sales and marketing spend (leading to sharp, regular deficits in its quarterly results), how fast Airbnb can grow through higher spend is a key question for the highly-backed, San Francisco-based private company.

Here’s the tally of guest stays in Airbnb’s during New Years Eve (data via CNBC, Jon Erlichman, Airbnb), and their resulting year-over-year growth rates:

  • 2009: 1,400
  • 2010: 6,000 (+329%)
  • 2011: 3,1000 (+417%)
  • 2012: 108,000 (248%)
  • 2013: 250,000 (+131%)
  • 2014: 540,000 (+116%)
  • 2015: 1,100,000 (+104%)
  • 2016: 2,000,000 (+82%)
  • 2017: 3,000,000 (+50%)
  • 2018: 3,700,000 (+23%)
  • 2019: 4,500,000 (+22%)

In chart form, that looks like this:

Let’s talk about a few things that stand out. First is that the company’s growth rate managed to stay over 100% for as long as it did. In case you’re a SaaS fan, what Airbnb pulled off in its early years (again, using this fun proxy for revenue growth) was far better than a triple-triple-double-double-double.

Next, the company’s growth rate in percentage terms has slowed dramatically, including in 2019. At the same time the firm managed to re-accelerate its gross guest growth in 2019. In numerical terms, Airbnb added 1,000,000 New Year’s Eve guest stays in 2017, 700,000 in 2018, and 800,000 in 2019. So 2019’s gross adds was not a record, but it was a better result than its year-ago tally.

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