Apple News is launching in Australia this week. After tinkering with the new app ahead of its launch to the Australian public, one thing stood out to me in particular. It wasn’t the design (although that’s nice), it wasn’t the animations (also, nice). It was the relentless obsession with privacy. Why does Apple want News to be so secure?
Never used Apple News before? That’s ok: you’re still in the majority.
Apple News is a lot like Apple Music, only instead of delivering you bangin’ tunes, it sends the hottest takes your way. News and Music are broken down in almost the same way: there’s a section of curated news based on your interests called For You, while also giving you a list of the sites you’ve pre-selected to read, as well as an Explore section to find new stuff you might have missed.
It’s a really lovely experience that packages everything up in a reader view, while also allowing you to access content on the original site at the same time thanks to nifty pre-loading techniques within the app.
When you boot the app for the first time, you’re welcomed in typical Apple fashion, and you’re given another little button which reads “News And Privacy” while the main content loads. I’d never thought about keeping my news-reading habits private, so the glowing text fascinated me.
It links to this page, which is part of Apple’s big veil-lifting process revealing how it handles your personal information on iPhones, iPads and Macs.
And it’s not just on News, take Maps for example. Here’s how Apple keeps where you’re going a secret:
Other companies try to build a profile about you using a complete history of everywhere you’ve been, usually because they’re targeting you for advertisers. Since our business doesn’t depend on advertising, we have no interest in doing this — and we couldn’t even if we wanted to. We’re more interested in letting you know when it’s time to leave for your next appointment. You don’t have to sign in to use Maps, and it only knows you by a random identifier that resets itself frequently as you use the app. Maps is also engineered to separate the data about your trips — including public transit directions — into segments, to keep Apple or anyone else from putting together a complete picture of your travels. Helping you get from Point A to Point B matters a great deal to us, but knowing the history of all your Point A’s and Point B’s doesn’t.
How safe that paragraph makes you feel depends on how much you trust Apple telling you that everything is going to be ok, but that’s another story for another day.
But why keep News data safe at all?
Well, reading a story on overthrowing the Government or LGBT rights or how to get great weed near you might not be a big deal for us here in Australia, but we’re blessed with a free and open internet (for the time being). In places that are less free, snooping on your browsing habits might be commonplace. If someone can connect you with interests contrary to those of a violent establishment, that could be potentially life-threatening for you as a reader.
Here’s what Apple is doing to keep News data safe:
Apple collects information about how you use Apple News in order to tailor features to your personal interests. These features include For You—where you will find a personal news feed that highlights the best stories for you from your favorite channels or topics; Explore—where you will see suggested channels or topics we recommend you follow; and Search—which includes suggested search topics based on trending issues. Apple is able to make these features possible by collecting information about which stories you read, save, or share, and the topics and publications you follow.
We understand that the articles you read are personal, so we designed News so your reading activity is not linked to other Apple services, and the data we collect is associated with an identifier specific to Apple News. Recommendations in For You are made based on the information stored on your device and are not collected or stored by Apple. To remove your reading history from your device, tap “Clear” in the History tab of the Saved section of News. This will also reset the identifier used for Apple News.
Apple does sync News interests over iCloud, but those can also be deleted and disabled in Settings.
Of course, not all of the pro-privacy chest-beating is pure of heart: Apple is using its new focus on keeping your data safe as a bit of a sales tactic. Whereas Google and Microsoft delight in learning as much about a customer as possible, Apple is starting to pride itself on all the things it doesn’t know.
Sales figures aside, Apple is dead serious about privacy in a way we’ve never really seen before. Down to the point that it’s willing to keep all of your news browsing habits anonymous, just in case someone snooping on that history can identify you.
In a world where the Government wants your metadata, spies want your photo and corporations want your money, is it any wonder that a technology company like Apple wants to put a user at ease about their information? Even when it’s something as seemingly innocuous as the types of News they read.