I’ll start out by officially stating that I am an Apple fan-boy, though with all these grey hairs, not much of a boy anymore. It seems that almost every day we hear of a data breach or some major topic of our digital privacy being stripped away or invaded. And with good reason.
So out of three of the top technology giants today, Apple, Facebook or Google, is focused the most on your actual privacy? The short answer is Apple and it’s a primary reason I remain in the ecosystem. No company is perfect, not even Apple and they’ve had some recent mistakes. But at least they face up to them.
In a way, it’s also hard to really compare them. Apple is superb at hardware and software, but doesn’t offer search or many other services, although that’s changing. Facebook isn’t really a hardware company, although they have a couple rather creepy hardware products like Portal. And Google, while it has hardware like Google Home and the Pixel smartphone and Chromebook laptops, they’ve never really done as well.
The common factor across these three companies though is that you are signed into them, you’re logged on and doing things. Things that they like to track you for and then turn into money. Facebook is free because they make their money selling your activities and personal information to advertisers. So it is with Google.
Fundamentally, Google and Facebook have little to no interest in your privacy beyond what the law requires of them. And as they are aggressive companies, they’re constantly pushing the boundaries of privacy rules and regulations around the world. Collecting, analysing and selling your personal data is inherently the business design of these two companies.
Apple on the other hand, designed privacy into its products years ago. Especially so with the iPhone and then the AppleWatch. Apple has made mistakes. But they are more open when they do and they tend to fix them. Facebook’s view of the world is that the only way to make money is to harvest personal data and get really personal. Google is much the same way. This however, is not necessary. Aggregate data that is wiped of personally identifiable data is still perfectly valuable and perhaps more so.
But for Facebook and Google to stop being so invasive would mean a massive overhaul of their software and very business practices. They are multi-billion corporations. The cost to do this would be astounding and frankly, they’ve no interest. Apple however, and consumers are increasingly placing pressure on them and they are making some small changes.
But neither Google or Facebook work from the fundamental starting point of privacy by design. Until they do, new privacy features they tout are little more than window dressing and are never easy to for the consumer to actually turn on. Google is admittedly, making better strides in it’s latest offerings.
One frightening example is Apple’s mobile operating system iOS versus Android. While Google’s latest version of Android is much better, over 95% of Android phones are from companies like Samsung or HTC, and they typically lag Google’s latest software updates. Added to this Google’s Play Store is the Wild West of apps. While they do some curation and monitoring, it’s not nearly as aggressive as Apple and now Apple is taking even more steps to stop bad apps. For some, this can seem restrictive, but there have been far less issues with Apple than Android.
Google plays loose with privacy and carries that Silicon Valley mantra of freedom and openness. That’s fine, but not when it comes to your privacy. As for Facebook, I removed the app from my iPhone over a year ago as well as Messenger. Facebook is most aggressive at tracking you through mobile devices. So if you want some privacy from Facebook, delete the apps on your smartphone and be sure to sign in/out in your browser each time.
Laws and regulations in many countries still lag behind the capabilities of these companies. The best is Europes’ GDPR which has some serious teeth. One of the worst in the world is the United States outside of HIPPA for healthcare information.
For your money, going cheap for an Android phone is actually costing you – your privacy that is. There are great budget versions of Apple iPhones and even used ones that will last a few years yet. While Apple isn’t perfect, they’re better at privacy than Facebook or Google.
More Insights: Check out this thought provoking article on is Facebook just a. reflection of our society?
Author: Giles Crouch is the Group Publisher and COO for Silver Magazine’s parent brand HUM@Nmedia as well as a Digital Anthropologist and is regularly interviewed by news media on issues of society and technology.