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Apple user privacy situation has caused problems for internal engineering teams


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Apple’s strong commitment to user privacy is said to have made work more difficult for some of its engineers, leading to vetoes of features and restrictions on what its platforms can do.

The iPhone maker doesn’t collect a lot of information from its users, and in some cases, even novice privacy engineers can reject suggested features that count as a privacy and security user, according to in-depth new research from the information.

Compared to other tech companies, Apple’s lack of access to user data means it can’t properly imitate features offered by its competitors, some insiders familiar with the matter said to the publication.

This is in contrast to competing technology giants such as Google and Meta, which freely collect and analyze data about their users’ online behavior. For Apple, privacy is a central pillar of its business model – and is said to be a source of pride for many of its employees.

However, some engineers in the non-privacy departments are concerned that Apple’s strong position is causing it to lag behind others.

For example, Apple TV+ engineers cannot analyze how customers move from one piece of content to another. This means that the streaming service is unable to recommend more videos based on preferences like Netflix or Disney.

Other features have never seen a consumer release due to privacy veto.

In 2019, Apple was working on a feature that could let users ask Siri to buy apps or other online services with their voice. This effort stalled because Apple’s media product engineers were unable to find a solution to work around the limitations that prevent Siri from associating a user’s Apple ID with their voice request.

And in 2015, Apple employees working on the Photos app suggested a feature that would let users list the locations they’ve visited in chronological order and view photos taken in those areas. This feature was rejected by a privacy engineer who explained how the feature could make it easier for authoritarian governments to know where a user is.

Apple’s privacy rules have been a nuisance to other departments, such as Apple Maps. The navigation app is pre-installed on Apple products but is not as popular as alternatives such as Google Maps. This is partly because Apple gets much less data, such as where a user begins and ends their journeys.

According to a report Friday, some junior privacy engineers could veto proposed new features from more senior employees in other Apple divisions.

The worst thinking of Apple’s privacy staff has been proven correct in recent years, including through sophisticated surveillance and spyware made by companies like the NSO Group — which sell tools to governments that can remotely seize and steal data from a user’s Apple device.

In some cases, Apple’s pro-privacy stance has created unique challenges. Between 2017 and 2018, Apple was working on the Raise to Speak feature on the Apple Watch. A former employee said some of his colleagues rejected the feature because it collected accelerometer and microphone data. They also rejected a proposal to hire volunteers to test the feature, as it still seemed to go beyond the privacy limit.

However, Apple’s commitment to privacy remains a unique selling point. It appears that Apple has been able to overcome some of the relatively negative effects on product development. For example, Apple TV + saw a rapid rise after a slow start. Despite the great competition, it seems to be growing, and in 2022, one of its assets – “CODA” – won an Oscar for Best Picture.

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