By Bahar Ferguson 

As more people get connected, the concerns about privacy have skyrocketed. Consider some facts:

• According to the Pew Research Center, 85 percent of American adults own a smartphone.

• There are an estimated 31 billion Internet of Things (IoT) devices in 2020, with experts estimating it will more than double by 2025.

• Over 5 billion people across the globe store data on these devices.

It’s no wonder that big tech companies like Amazon, Google and Facebook have taken notice. Data collected by these businesses drive the market. That’s what makes Apple’s move to listen to users’ concerns and finally empower them to choose who collects what so epic. Apple has joined the consumers’ side to lend its voice for transparency and privacy. Its decision couldn’t be more brilliant or well-timed.

Privacy in a Connected World

Unease over the data collected by companies isn’t new. The European Union has been at the forefront of pursuing anti-trust lawsuits again tech giants like Google to the tune of $5 billion. What’s different is how widespread and unnoticed it’s been until recently.

Consumers are responding, too. According to the Pew Research Center, over half of Americans have refused to do business with a company because of privacy issues. With the rise in cybercrime and security breaches, users realize how vulnerable unfettered data collection makes them.

Apple and Privacy

To alleviate these concerns, Apple is introducing a new app tracking transparency feature with its iOS 14.5 update. Its primary purpose is to create awareness, something that will undoubtedly shock users unfamiliar with data collection policies.

Consumers will have the opportunity to opt out of tracking with a pop-up asking for permission. They can change their preferences at any time. The eye-opener will come when users find out which developers are collecting and using their data.

Apple is playing hardball with developers to ensure compliance and transparency with this feature. They must declare any tracking they do through their apps and keep this information up to date. Users will also have more options for location access.

The update spells the end of open season on users’ camera, microphone and photo library.

Apple is also firing a shot across the bow, warning developers not to look for loopholes or work-around solutions or risk violating the company’s Apple Developer Program License Agreement.

Apple has also revamped its Safari browser with its Intelligent Tracking Prevention feature. Users will learn who is trying to track them. They will also block social widgets by default and alert users to password breaches.

Implications for Other Big Tech

Apple’s aggressive approach to privacy couldn’t come at a better time as cyberattacks shift to the mobile realm. Online fraud is of particular concern, with incidences increasing 700 percent in 2019. RSA Security estimates that 70 percent were mobile transactions.

It isn’t just about online activity, either, which makes Apple’s move so apropos. It also rests with developers and rogue apps. RSA Security reports that 80 such apps are uncovered each day.

The implication for developers is removal from the App Store if they fail to comply with the new policies. Even popular offerings are on the table, as evidenced by Apple’s investigation into mislabeling by virtual private networks. Only 5 percent were in compliance with the company’s privacy policies.

Pushback from Big Tech

Big tech and ad agencies haven’t welcomed the changes that Apple has implemented nor the software update. Facebook has been especially vocal in its opposition as a business that relies on data collection. Interestingly, the company has turned to print advertising to voice its concerns with full-page ads.

Apple and Facebook continue their public battle, swapping accusations back and forth, pleading their cases. Clearly, Facebook realizes what’s at stake. However, one must ask if it’s too little, too late.

Pushback from Users

Privacy is now on the radar of consumers who may welcome Apple’s policies and software changes. Nearly two-thirds of Americans rank privacy relations very high, which can have far-reaching implications for companies that ignore these concerns. Just ask the developers of WhatsApp. A policy change that prevented users from opting out of data collection that is, in turn, shared with parent company Facebook, ushered in a huge backlash. People choose the other option that developers provided — deleting their account and joining another platform.

Apple’s update falls in line with other consumer protection moves, such as the California Consumer Protection Act. This law also empowers users by creating awareness that comes from learning who is tracking what on websites via cookies.

One only has to look at the litany of investigations and hearings involving other big tech companies, such as Amazon and Google, to know that the federal government is listening to consumer complaints.

What Apple’s Changes Don’t Do

Apple created an uproar in the cybercommunity and big tech, which has fueled misinformation. It does not prevent ads from companies like Facebook. Neither does it erase data that companies have already obtained. Its primary purpose is to keep things status quo and inform users about their choices.

Another Tool in the Arsenal

Apple has sent a powerful message and perhaps a better way to manage consumer privacy. Actions that governments have taken in the past, such as large fines and restructuring of companies, haven’t dealt with privacy concerns effectively.

Perhaps Apple is on the right track. Transparency puts the user in control and enables them to take charge of their privacy. Consumers are well-aware of the power of choices. Learning its value to big tech companies can help them make informed decisions about what to share.

Nearly 40 percent of advertisers have changed how much they track consumers. Maybe big tech will finally get and read the memo.

Apple began as an innovator in technology from its humble beginnings in 1976. It continues to surprise consumers for good and bad. Its decision to take on privacy by the horns once again demonstrates why it’s one of the Big Five in tech. It changed the world with the Apple computer. Perhaps it can revolutionize transparency and privacy policies with a daring leap into a cyberwar.

Bahar Ferguson is president of Wasatch I.T., a Utah provider of outsourced IT and managed compliance services for small and medium-sized businesses.

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