Privacy vs. User Experience

Apple is going to realize very soon that it has made a grave mistake by positioning itself as a bastion of privacy against Google, the evil invader of everyone’s secrets. The truth is that collecting information about people allows you to make significantly better products, and the more information you collect, the better products you can build. Apple can barely sync iMessage across devices because it uses an encryption system that prevents it from being able to read the actual messages. Google knows where I am right now, where I need to be for my meeting in an hour, what the traffic is like, and whether I usually take public transportation, a taxi, or drive myself. Using that information, it can tell me exactly when to leave. This isn’t science fiction; it’s actually happening. And Apple’s hardline stance on privacy is going to leave it in Google’s dust.

In a recent public letter about privacy, Tim Cook incorrectly characterized Google’s intentions when collecting user information:

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.

Cook is being disingenuous, because he knows that the same information Google uses to target advertising is also used to make its products, like Google Maps, so great. I find it very odd that Cook implies the only use for such data is to “monetize” through advertising. iPhone and iCloud could be made much better if the computer systems could analyze the data people are storing in them. This is obvious.

The real issue that Apple is trying to address is not really privacy, but rather security. Though Google has all of my data, it is still private. Google does not sell access to my data; it sells access to my attention. Advertisers do not get my information from Google. So as long as I trust Google’s employees, the only two potential breaches of my privacy are from the government or from a hacker. If we accept this as a fact, the fundamental privacy question changes from, “Do you respect my privacy?” to “Is the user experience improvement worth the security risk to my private information?”

As long as people understand the potential risks, the answer to the second question is almost always, “Yes.” And with the emergence of artificial intelligence, the answer to that question will become increasingly more clear. The vast improvements in user experience far, far outweigh the potential security risks to private information.

Unfortunately, Apple has answered, “No.”


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