How Apple weaponized privacy

Apple’s freshly updated privacy portal is a bullet aimed at rival business models.

From Apple products are designed to protect your privacy:

At Apple, we believe privacy is a fundamental human right.

And so much of your personal information — information you have a right to keep private — lives on your Apple devices.

Your heart rate after a run. Which news stories you read first. Where you bought your last coffee. What websites you visit. Who you call, email, or message.

Every Apple product is designed from the ground up to protect that information. And to empower you to choose what you share and with whom.

We’ve proved time and again that great experiences don’t have to come at the expense of your privacy and security. Instead, they can support them.

My take: This is a selling point for Apple that gets stronger with every Facebook data breach. But I can’t read the company’s rhetoric without thinking of the term Stratechery’s Ben Thompson coined for it back in 2013:

You can almost hear it now:

How admirable! Golly gee, Apple is such a better company than those hypocritical evil-doers at Google! Why can’t everyone treat customers so well? Apple good. Google bad. Facebook worse.

The truth is this is nothing more than a strategy credit:

Strategy Credit: An uncomplicated decision that makes a company look good relative to other companies who face much more significant trade-offs. For example, Android being open source.

There’s nothing worth praising here – or denigrating – but it’s worth acknowledging. In the meantime, though, Apple will happily score rhetorical points in the court of public opinion for a decision that wasn’t difficult at all.

BTW, the inverse of a strategy credit, in Thompson’s lexicon,  is a strategy tax:

A strategy tax is anything that makes a product less likely to succeed, yet is included to further larger corporate goals.

He used the example five years ago of the release of Office for iPhone, but not iPad. See here.



  1. John Kirk said:

    Yes, I think Apple is fortunate that their business model aligns with privacy. But I also think they consciously created those fortunate circumstances. Steve Jobs laid down guidelines on privacy long ago — and they were guidelines that not only didn’t help the company at that time but, on the contrary, made it nigh on impossible for Apple to participate in the gold rush that was online advertising.

    While others reaped the benefits of invading privacy in order to sell our data to advertisers, Apple took the high road — and was mocked for doing so. Yes, Apple was lucky. But they played a large role in creating that luck.

    October 18, 2018
    • Gregg Thurman said:

      I recall Apple’s short lived effort to get into online advertising. I don’t know what Apple offered advertisers for access to Apple customers, but the effort failed. So it’s possible Apple did try to sell user Dara at one time, or the effort failed because advertisers weren’t getting the data they got from Google/Facebook.

      October 18, 2018
      • John Kirk said:

        Apple did try to get into advertising, but their terms were so stilted, that they failed. A business model not only defines what you can do, it also defines what you cannot do.

        October 18, 2018
  2. Ken Cheng said:

    I wouldn’t say it’s an “uncomplicated decision”, since there have been an enormous number of opportunities for Apple to relax its stance on privacy in order to monetize the personal information from over a billion users. Right now, the iPhone is a huge conduit to Google search and Facebook app usage, making billions for both companies.

    If Zuckerberg were in charge of Apple, he’d slowly squeeze those conduits and steer users to ones that Apple could profit from. Heck, if Eddy Cue were in charge, does anyone doubt he’d do that? Apple hasn’t had an “uncomplicated decision “. It’s been a multi-billion dollar decision not to monetize personal information.

    October 18, 2018
    • Fred Stein said:

      Excellent point not “uncomplicated” at all. Apple was berated by the FBI, politicians, and the press for their stand on the San Bernardino iPhone. They were accused of valuing brand at the expense of human lives and national security. It was easy to attack Apple playing on fear and the pain of tragic loss. Apple’s attempts to explain their decisions on security fell on deaf ears; Or worse, some knew better, and chose to exploit the naivety of the most people.

      October 18, 2018
  3. Fred Stein said:

    Are Apple’s comments self serving? Sure, and that is OK. Apple may have a strong motive to highlight this issue.

    In the broad category of Smart Home devices, Apple lags. In some sub-categories they have no offer. Surely they have plans and wisely pre-condition the market to ask, “Who am I letting into my house?

    October 18, 2018

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