UPDATED with added analysis
Apple, which has used its commitment to consumer privacy to distance itself from its Silicon Valley rivals, doubled down on privacy and security with the latest version of its Mac desktop operating system, dubbed “Mojave.”
Apple Senior Vice President Craig Federighi said new data protections in the macOS, which is due out this fall, will require apps to get a user’s permission before accessing the camera and microphone or peering at personal data in mail or messages.
“We believe your private data should stay private,” said Federighi, in a line that drew robust applause today’s keynote address to Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose.
The latest version of the Safari browser will come with intelligent tracking prevention to prevent companies from using “like” or “share” buttons to track users without their permission — that’s a direct shot at Facebook, whose privacy practices have come under fire.
Safari also will make it harder for data companies to track individual computers through a method known as “fingerprinting,” or using a device’s specific configuration, its fonts and plug-ins to track a user from site to site. Safari will show stripped down set of information when users browse the web.
“As a result your Mac will look like everyone else’s Mac,” said Federighi. “It will be more difficult for data companies to identify your device and track you.”
Apple has worked to set itself apart from Facebook and Google on privacy for a long time — a clear differentiator, since its business model relies on selling devices at premium prices, not advertising that’s informed by data collection.
“When an online service is free, you’re not the customer. You’re the product,” Chief Executive Tim Cook wrote in an open letter to Apple customers in 2014.
Cook sought to underscore that point this spring, when Facebook was dealing with the fallout from Cambridge Analytica harvesting data on millions of its users without their permission.
“You are not our product,” Cook declared in a Chicago town hall event with MSNBC and the tech news site Recode. “You are our customer. You are a jewel, and we care about the user experience, and we’re not going to traffic in your personal life.”
Carolina Milanesi, a technology industry analyst with the research firm Creative Strategies, said she worried that Apple would use its developers conference as an opportunity to score publicity points on its competitors. Instead, it introduced tools that attack a problem that is of concern to legislators in the U.S. and in Europe: namely, Facebook’s ability to track its users after they’ve left the social media platform.
“Today it wasn’t about PR,” Milanesi said. “They actually put their words where their mouth is.”