Apple “Privacy Czars” Tussle With Internal Conflict Over User Data

People within the company have taken opposing stands over the iPhone unlocking saga.

Tech News
2 min read
The iPhone security breach is a hotly debated subject in the media. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>)

As Apple Inc feuds with the US government over iPhone privacy protections, the tech giant is also grappling with internal conflicts over privacy that could pose challenges to its long-term product strategy.

Approval is anything but automatic – products including the Siri voice-command feature and the recently scaled-back iAd advertising network were restricted due to privacy concerns, as per the Reuters report.

Also Read: Apple Can’t Be Forced by FBI to Unlock iPhone, Says New York Judge

“Customers expect Apple and other technology companies to do everything in our power to protect their personal information,” Cook wrote in a letter explaining the company’s opposition to a government demand that it help unlock the iPhone recently.

Apple’s apparent willingness to sacrifice some profit for the sake of privacy bolsters its image as a company that protects customers. But now, amid stagnant iPhone sales, Apple executives have flagged services such as iCloud and Apple Music as prime sources for growth – which could test the company’s commitment to limiting the use of personal data.


The Privacy Czars

Inside Apple, the trio of experts known among employees as the privacy czars is both admired and feared.

Jane Horvath, a lawyer who previously served as global privacy counsel at Google, is the group’s legal and policy wonk, often channeling the views of Apple’s board and citing regulatory requirements, said former employees who have worked with her.

Also Read: It’s ‘Impossible’ to Unlock New iPhones, Apple Tells US Court

The third czar, a rising star named Erik Neuenschwander, scrutinizes engineers’ work to ensure they are following through on the agreements – even reviewing lines of code.

Key principles include keeping customer data on their devices – rather than in the cloud, on Apple servers – and isolating various types of data so they cannot be united to form profiles of customers.

Most tech companies now have privacy review processes; Facebook, Google, Twitter and Snapchat entered into consent orders with the Federal Trade Commission that require them.

At Facebook and Google, the privacy teams also insert themselves early and often in product development, spokesperson for the companies said. The consensus among privacy experts is that privacy enforcement is more stringent at Apple because of the company’s business model.

Also Read: US Founders Would Be ‘Appalled’ by Govt’s iPhone Request: Apple

Apple must strike the right balance as it intensifies its push into services, said Bob O’Donnell, an analyst at TECHnalysis Research. In January, Apple’s earnings report showed $5.5 billion in services revenue for the most recent quarter, up 15 percent from the previous year.

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