Big Tech’s New Privacy-Friendly Initiatives Are Anything But

Recent initiatives from Google and Apple represent something of a win for consumers, but to what extent and why?

If you look at recent headlines, it seems like the biggest players in the technology industry are finally embracing a more privacy-centric way of doing business.

The pronouncements are coming fast and furious. Here’s a quick rundown:

  • Apple is adding privacy labels to apps sold on its store as part of a broader move toward giving consumers more control over their data.
  • Google announced that it will block third-party cookies in future versions of its Chrome web browser.
  • Twitter is exploring non-advertisement routes to monetization.

Maintaining its ever-present level of user surveillance, Facebook just got a $650 million bill to settle a privacy suit. Facebook has been enough times with enough , and investigations that a tipping point may be in the offing.

But does any of this represent a win for the end user?

Privacy Matters

Whenever the curtain is pulled back on data collection, it’s a teachable moment and an opportunity to improve consumer privacy.

Most of us care about our privacy. We don’t like people in our stuff, and generally don’t want our information shared with third parties without our consent.

A recent conducted by Pew Research found that nearly 80 percent of adults polled were concerned about their data being collected, but only six percent felt that they understood what data was being collected and/or how it was being used. Most businesses that traffic in user data are opaque about what they’re doing with our information-location, age, gender, language, educational level, buying habits, ethnic background, household income, physical activity and other deeply intimate details -because if they were to ask for it in explicit terms we’d say, “Are you out of your mind?”

Recent initiatives from Google and Apple represent something of a win for consumers, but to what extent and why?

Et Tu, Apple?

Since Tim Cook took the top spot at Apple, the company has positioned itself as a champion of consumer privacy.

From a privacy point of view, this is great. Popular apps such as Instagram and Facebook gather enormous amounts of user data to track users, and many other apps including Spotify, Duolingo, and TripAdvisor personal data Facebook the moment you open them without notification or your consent.

Apple’s “walled garden” approach is as legendary as “ the Apple Tax .” The company even parted ways with Intel, manufacturing its own proprietary line of processor chips instead. Additionally, Apple corrals users into its proprietary web browser , navigation app , music service , podcasting service , TV streaming service , email service , cloud-based backup service , home automation system , and you can pay for it all with its payment service . You think that’s seamless? All the while this online eco-system is gobbling up your , and, yes, using it for targeted advertising .

It’s not that Apple doesn’t collect data, it’s just that it doesn’t it.

And then there’s Google…

Many of the same considerations with Apple figure when it comes to Google. Google is an even more highly integrated company with a broad array of products and services all capable of tracking your data, habits, and behavior.

The company controls of the search engine market, a shade under of the web browser market, of the online map and navigation market, over of the mobile operating system market and its video platform has over 2.3 billion users worldwide, making it the world’s second largest social network after Facebook.

Any move Google makes to protect consumer privacy is a good thing. When Mozilla Firefox and Safari block third-party cookies, it’s window-dressing. When Google’s Chrome browser does the same thing, entire industries that rely on invasive tracking could go belly up. (And good riddance.)

Google’s situation with third-party cookies is similar to Apple’s latest privacy moves only it owns everything but Apple’s walled garden.

Google’s ubiquity extends into the offline world as well. The company inked a with MasterCard in 2018 to track and combine offline purchases with data on online ad clicks. It receives data from advertisers with loyalty programs to further track offline shopping behavior with online browsing habits. The sophistication of Google’s ability to track and gather data makes third-party cookies seem quaint, and it takes the luster out of any privacy-centric decisions on their part.

They are what Mark Zuckerberg was talking about when he said we live in a post-privacy world.

The takeaway

More privacy is good. Talking about privacy in a world where it doesn’t exist is bad. While Apple and Google deserve credit for talking a better game when it comes to data privacy, we need to understand such moves in their full context.

Should companies like Amazon and Facebook take note? To be continued…

Originally published at https://adamlevin.com on March 25, 2021.

Founder, CyberScout. Co-founder, Credit.com.

Founder, CyberScout. Co-founder, Credit.com.