Apple’s Changing Relationship With Personal Data

Tim Bajarin wrote a great article last week, that makes an interesting and subtle point he did not dive into. Last year, I wrote an article on why Apple needs to win the services battle. In that article, I made what I felt was the strongest argument for Apple and winning the services battle.

All of the above points lead me to my final observation. I believe it is essential that Apple is competitive with services like Siri, and many others, against those whose business models depend on more on data collection than Apple’s. While I don’t believe Google and Facebook are the bad actors Apple portrays them as (and neither do consumers via evidence from our surveys), the bottom line is their business model, the financial lifeblood of their company, depends on their ability to sell advertising with the data they collect on customers using their service. Where Apple’s business model does not depend on using customer data collection to sell advertising, it is necessary for their model to make products and services that delight their customers. Within this viewpoint, Apple is already a trusted entity with our privacy since their business model does not necessitate mining that personal information.

My argument is that if Apple is not competitive with some core services, and companies like Google are, then they are pushing their customers to companies whose business model differs from Apple’s. My broad point was how Apple is a trusted entity and if collecting more personal data will lead to competitive services then I’m all for it. Apple’s use of personal data will differ from the likes of Google, Facebook, and even Amazon to a degree. One can argue that if Apple lets people opt-in to freely let Apple use personal data that the level of personalized services Apple can give us will be greatly superior to the competition.

While I appreciate Apple’s privacy policy, I think even Apple themselves underestimate the position of trust they are in with their customers. Interestingly, I think their efforts in health have opened their eyes to this matter.

Apple’s initial push with ResearchKit was to anonymize user data to protect people’s privacy as they participate in health-related studies. As the program evolved the number of information consumers are willing to share on an opt-in basis has expanded. And I believe Apple themselves is surprised how much information consumers are willing to offer because they see the value in these studies, but also because they trust Apple to play a role in keeping their data private.

My grand hope is that Apple sees their value, not just as a mediator of data in the case of ResearchKit and HealthKit, but also their position as a trusted entity by consumers. I still firmly believe, that if Apple allowed consumers to opt-in and willingly share a bit more personal information with Apple, many of their customers would willingly share more information in exchange for better and more personalized services.

Health is the most likely area I think for Apple to start. Consider the position they are in with Apple Watch as a health management and preventative health tool. Who would not share more information willingly if it meant a more healthy life and the possibility of avoiding a serious health problem?

In fact, the way Apple clearly states how you manage your privacy as a part of ResearchKit is the way they should evolve their overall policy of how consumers can share information with Apple directly. Here is Apple’s statement on privacy with ResearchKit:

Share your data, keep your privacy.
We know how much you value the privacy of your information, and both ResearchKit and CareKit have been designed with that in mind. You choose which research studies you want to join, you control what information you provide to which apps, and you can always see the data you’re sharing.

This may not sound that different than how Apple handles privacy information today, and that is true with very small amounts of “necessary” data like name or address, etc. for credit card transactions. But Apple has never used a blanket term like share your data. It has been share *some data but not all, or choose what you share.

I’m optimistic that Apple is beginning to understand both the value of seeing more customer data so they can create better services, but also just how strong of a trusted position they are in. And in the big picture, Apple having the best services (especially those that compete with Google) means their customers don’t have to sacrifice their privacy for a better service from a competitor or company with an advertising-based business model. Basically, consumers can have the best of both worlds. For Apple to get there, however, I’m convinced they need to let consumers share more personal data with them. We will see if Apple can make a subtle pivot in this delicate area.

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Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

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