What does Apple know about you?

Emma McGowan 24 Aug 2021

In this world of data collection and processing, Apple takes the lead on privacy

When it comes to online privacy, one Big Tech company has taken the lead. I’ll give you a hint: Their name is a fruit and their founder really liked black turtlenecks. 

Ding ding ding! If you guessed Apple, you’re right on the money. The tech behemoth has planted a flag in the privacy space, doubling down on the idea that it’s a “fundamental human right” and cracking down on apps and services that track users and compile data. This year alone we’ve seen them roll out anti-tracking features — including the option to opt-out of app tracking — and a Hide My Email feature that helps protect people from data breaches. 

They’re not perfect, of course. Apple has been criticized for the potential for law enforcement to access data that’s stored on iCloud. There are serious questions about how data is collected and used within the Apple ecosystem. But I spend all day every day writing about online security and privacy and I’m being completely up front when I tell you that I recommend Apple to my friends and family because of their privacy measures. Again: it’s definitely not perfect. But Apple is further along the privacy path than the majority of their competitors. 

So with all of that in mind, let’s take a look at Apple for this installment of What Does the Internet Know About Me?

What does Apple track?

Apple obviously has a lot of different products, so let’s take a look at their overarching Privacy Policy. They explicitly state the situations in which they’ll collect data, which include when you “create an Apple ID, apply for commercial credit, purchase and/or activate a product or device, download a software update, register for a class at an Apple Store, connect to our services, contact us (including by social media), participate in an online survey, or otherwise interact with Apple.”

If you do any of those things, they might ask for the following:

  • Account information, including your Apple ID, email, devices, account status, and age
  • Device information, like your serial number or browser type
  • Contact info you provide
  • Payment info you provide
  • Transaction info, like which Apple products you’ve purchased and when 
  • Fraud prevention information
  • Usage data, like which apps you’re using, your browsing and search history, product interaction, crash data, and performance and other diagnostic data
  • Location info, which is only precise when using “Find My,” otherwise it’s not exact
  • Health information, if you use their Health app or the health features of Apple Watch
  • Financial information, if you provide it for any “Apple-branded financial offerings”
  • Government ID, if required by your local government for certain services 
  • Anything you share via email, social, or other communication with Apple

What does Apple do with my data?

Apple primarily uses my data to deliver the services I’ve asked for. They specifically state in their Privacy Policy that they retain personal data “only for so long as necessary to fulfill the purposes for which it was collected.” They also might share it with service providers, who are bound by Apple’s Privacy Policy, and third parties like financial institutions they partner with in order to provide services like Apple Card or Apple Cash. 

The most ambiguous group that Apple may share my data with is titled “Others.” That category includes neutral “others,” like my carrier when I activated my account, and much less neutral “others,” like law enforcement or national security officers. However, Apple has so far been pretty resistant to law enforcement efforts to access individuals’ devices, even when they’ve been accused of atrocious crimes. So do with that what you will. 

There’s a noticeable group missing from the list of who Apple shares data with and if you’ve been reading along with What Does the Internet Know About Me? for a while, you’ve probably already spotted it: Advertisers. Apple doesn’t share my data with advertisers and doesn’t compile it with other data sets to serve me targeted ads.

They do, however, process a lot of my data and use it to sell ads within their own ecosystem. It’s kind of a weird grey area, because they’re not sharing it with third parties but they’re still collecting and using it. 

Is it worth it?

I kind of gave away the verdict in the opening of this article, but I’ll reiterate it here: If you care about privacy, Apple is the way to go. Is it perfect? No. Are there still advances to be made? Absolutely. Do I have concerns? One hundred percent. But in this world of data collection and processing, they’re better than nothing.

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