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Apple Uses Its First Privacy Report To Insult Everyone Else In The Tech Industry

"Our business does not depend on collecting personal data. We have no interest in amassing personal information about our customers."

Posted on November 5, 2013, at 4:29 p.m. ET

Stephen Lam / Reuters

One response to Apple's decision to release a report on official government data requests might be this: Why so late? Google, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, and even Yahoo have been releasing these for a while, under the guise of a commitment to transparency and a larger fight against government incursion.

It's a fair question! Why did Apple wait so long to join its peers in disclosing the number of times the government has compelled it to give up data on its users? According to Apple, the reason is that Apple doesn't consider these companies its peers. The report contains this scathing language, which essentially calls the rest of the tech industry evil:

Perhaps most important, our business does not depend on collecting personal data. We have no interest in amassing personal information about our customers. We protect personal conversations by providing end-to-end encryption over iMessage and FaceTime. We do not store location data, Maps searches, or Siri requests in any identifiable form.
Yikes. This line, right before, is pretty harsh too:
Apple offers customers a single, straightforward privacy policy that covers every Apple product.
This is a fairly grim assessment of the tech industry! And there's a case to be made that it's an accurate one. Thinking about how much data you've submitted to Google, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, and Amazon, and about what they're using it for, is a lot like thinking about existence: a great way to feel very dizzy, very fast.

But coming from Apple, this case also rings disingenuous. Can Apple seriously claim it has "no interest in amassing personal information about [its] customers" while also operating a nearly compulsory email service, the world's largest digital media store and digital media payment platform, and iCloud, which explicitly collects the personal data of virtually every iOS user? The only reason its request numbers are somewhat low compared with Google's is because not very many people choose to use Apple's email service with any regularity, since it's just not very good. There's also the minor matter of Apple's various user-facing, personal-data-driven services, such as Ping, Genius for Apps, and Find My Friends, all of which have been unmitigated failures.

And while I suppose the idea that Apple "offers customers a single, straightforward privacy policy that covers every Apple product" is a nice one, how many customers have read all the way through this nearly 2,500-word policy and truly understand what it means? The percentage of Apple users who have read Apple's privacy policy might be higher than the percentage of Facebook users who have read Facebook's policy. But I would be willing to bet a lot of money — or, all my data! — that both numbers are practically indistinguishable from zero.

So, anyway, what does the report tell us? Not very much: "1,000–2,000" law enforcement account requests received, and 3,542 "Device Information Requests" affecting 8,605 devices. Like other companies' reports, this one provides virtually no context and little actionable information. You can read the whole thing here.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.