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Privacy risk: Apple report shows how your data is shared without your knowledge




A father named John plans to take his 7-year daughter Emma to the park. Using his computer, John looks up the weather, reads news, and checks a map for traffic. As John rides to the playground near Emma’s school, he is unaware that four apps on his phone are tracking his location and collecting data, which is later extracted and sold by developers to obscure third party data brokers.


This fictitious but all-too-real father-daughter story is included as part of a “A Day in the Life of Your Data” report released Thursday by Apple, in conjunction with the annual Data Privacy Day. The report aims to simplify for consumers how companies track user data across websites and apps and outlines Apple's principles to prevent such practices.


Apple CEO Tim Cook will also mark the occasion by speaking at the Computers, Privacy and Data Protection conference in Brussels.


Raising awareness around privacy is nothing new for Apple. The company has earned a strong reputation when it comes to protecting an individual's right of privacy and frequently shines a light on the subject through its marketing.


Just last month, Apple updated its privacy information page, and began rolling out a program requiring iOS, iPadOS, macOS, watchOS, and tvOS app developers to provide summaries of their privacy practices related to apps sold and/or distributed through its various App Stores.


Coming soon in a beta update, a new App Tracking Transparency requirement will make developers get a user’s permission before tracking the person’s data across apps or websites owned by other companies. Under Settings, you’ll be able to see which apps have requested permission to track and make changes as they see fit. The requirement will roll out broadly in early spring, with upcoming releases of iOS 14, iPadOS 14, and tvOS 14.





“Too often, consumers are unknowing participants in a web of data tracking and targeting," said Center for Democracy & Technology privacy advocate Michelle Richardson in a statement released through Apple. "These changes will help rebalance the ecosystem so that data collection and sharing is more transparent and tracking is no longer the default. Systemic change of this breadth is a huge leap forward for consumers."


In his own statement released by Apple, Jeff Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy, says, “Apple’s new data privacy tools ensure that people have greater control over their personal information. Data brokers and online advertisers will now have to act more responsibly when dealing with consumers who use third party applications on Apple devices.”


And Tristan Harris of the Center for Humane Technology, said that Apple’s announcement “moves the ecosystem further away from the malicious effects of secretive profiling and micro-targeting that enables many of the problems outlined in The Social Dilemma (movie).”


Apple’s report cites third party research indicating that the harvesting of personal data fuels a $227 billion annual industry, without most people having any idea that their data is being exploited.


On the way home from the park, John buys Emma ice cream and pays with his credit card. The transaction is added to his data profile, which includes the location of store where he bought the ice cream and and how much he spent. A tracking app also discovers that father and daughter stopped later at a toy story. That piece of information is also shared with data brokers. It isn’t long before John’s devices are peppered with targeted ads for sugary treats and the toy store.


As you would expect, the report explains various ways Apple would given consumers like John more transparency and control over their own data. When a consumer uses Apple products or service, for example, the company says it only collects the minimum amount of data required to deliver that given service. Apple also says that whenever possible, it will process data on an iPhone or other Apple device, rather than sending it off to Apple’s servers.


How much is privacy a consideration when you buy tech products or transact with these devices?


Email: edbaig@gmail.com; Follow @edbaig on Twitter