Apple ‘Privacy Czars’ Fight Against Greater Access to User Data


iPhone privacy

Apple’s team of “privacy czars” are said to be grappling with internal conflicts over privacy as the Cupertino company battles it out with the Justice Department over an iPhone backdoor. Some employees want access to more user data that could make certain products more successful, Reuters reports — but they must fight with the czars to get it.

Apple has three privacy czars who work alongside a top executive to sign off data collection requests. They work with Apple’s engineers frequently during the product development process, and they’re not afraid to reject data requests in favor of user privacy.

The team is made up of Jane Hovarth, a lawyer who previously served as global privacy counsel at Google; Guy “Bud” Tribble, a member of the original Macintosh team who has worked closely with Steve Jobs and also serves as Senior Vice President of Software Technology; and Erik Neuenschwander, who scrutinizes engineer code to ensure they are meeting any agreements.

“Inside Apple, the trio of experts known among employees as the privacy czars are both admired and feared,” reports Reuters.

As soon as new Apple products enter development, this trio begins collaborating with the engineering and legal teams to ensure that those products don’t break Apple’s stringent privacy policies in any way. Some particularly sensitive decisions may be escalated to Tim Cook.

“Key principles include keeping customer data on their devices – rather than in the cloud, on Apple servers – and isolating various types of data so they cannot be united to form profiles of customers,” Reuters explains.

In some cases, debates over new uses of data take over a year, and Apple’s czars aren’t afraid to block requests even if it means certain products will suffer. The biggest casualty of this stance is thought to be iAd, which launched in 2010 and closed down back in January.

The iAd team wanted greater access to information about the users who saw iOS ads, but despite “about a dozen similar pitches,” the most they were allowed was a count of how many users saw an ad. “It was so watered down, it wasn’t even useful,” one former employee said.

Engineers also fought with the privacy team over Siri ahead of its launch. The team insisted that voice data on what users said to the digital assistant must be stores separately from personally identifiable data, which required “major back-end surgery,” the former employee added.

Apple’s strict data policies separate it from rival tech giants — such as Amazon, Google and Facebook — which collect lots of user data for marketing purposes. It’s now a selling point Apple often promotes, and a key reason why many continue to buy Apple devices.

[Reuters]

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