Magazines and Apple’s Privacy Policy

Apple updated their Privacy Policy yesterday, it is a big revision. So important that Tim Cook posted a clear summary of their position, which anybody in the digital magazine or digital publishing business needs to digest and understand.

A few years ago, users of Internet services began to realize that when an online service is free, you’re not the customer. You’re the product. But at Apple, we believe a great customer experience shouldn’t come at the expense of your privacy.

Our business model is very straightforward: We sell great products. We don’t build a profile based on your email content or web browsing habits to sell to advertisers. We don’t “monetize” the information you store on your iPhone or in iCloud. And we don’t read your email or your messages to get information to market to you. Our software and services are designed to make our devices better. Plain and simple. A Message from Tim Cook….

These two paragraphs look like a pretty clear dig at companies such as Google and Facebook which harvest enormous amounts of personal data that they then ‘monetize’ primarily through advertising. Apple is setting a clear direction here in defending the user’s data and not abusing the customer’s trust. The detailed policies are clearly expressed and reassuring. There is a good reason for Apple to tighten up and underline its ‘hands off’ approach to user’s data now a week after its announcements on ApplePay, HealthKit and the very intimate new device, the most personal computer ever, the AppleWatch. So this is the big picture. Apple is driving some tent-poles in the ground, some standards for privacy and consumer control of personal data, that other companies will find tough to emulate.

But why should this matter to magazines and publishers generally? The reason is simply that Apple is projecting a standard for what should remain private when we read. When we read stuff on the Google and Amazon platforms, the extent and the pattern of our reading is completely known to Google and Amazon. Google and Amazon tie this data into our profile on their services. So this information is used to configure the rest of their interaction with us. As Alexandra Alter puts it “Your ebook is reading you”. No one knows quite how much use Amazon and Google make of this information that they gather on reading patterns, but Apple is firmly saying that this is information that belongs to the customer, and that Apple will not collect and monetize this data and it will not build an elaborate profile of our activity with their devices (“we don’t read your email or your messages to get information to market to you”). Even more important the rules which govern Apple’s app platforms will only permit developers to collect this data, if the fact of collection is clearly sign-posted and under the control of the end users.

Android is looking more and more like an advertising platform. Amazon’s fork of Android is becoming indistinguishable from a digital shopping platform. Apple is securing to itself, the moral high ground but also the commercial high ground, since iOS looks like the digital device platform which allows consumers to do pretty much anything without surrendering too much data and too much privacy to services that may not work in the long-term interests of consumers.

There is still going to be be room for clever and responsive advertising on the iOS platform, but it will need to stick by the rules. This will pose a dilemma for app builders. Do they optimise their functionality and their usage for the iOS platform, or do they blend in the tricksier and sometimes creepily intrusive interactions which will be fine on Android but forbidden in iOS? My guess is that the most reputable and the most prestigious publications will concentrate even more on the ‘upmarket’ iOS platform. Certainly subscription-oriented publications will give greater weight to the privacy and contentment of their subscribers, and this will re-inforce Apple’s position as the premium platform for many apps. Magazine and newspaper apps included, because the content of these apps and our pattern of reading, is so informative, and potentially so invasive of our island of privacy.