Like Oil and Water

There’s been a lot of bad news in the past several years about data breaches and other privacy related issues. You would think that, like oil and water, Privacy and Technology just don’t mix. Despite advances in security and protection with our web-connected devices, privacy keeps getting thrown under the bus. Are there any tech companies you can trust these days?


Apple Privacy

One of the biggest proponents for techno-privacy is Apple. They market Privacy as a feature of their premium ecosystem, and it’s one with great benefits. What are the greatest perks of online privacy? Identity, Autonomy, and Security come to mind.

You may have heard sayings like, “Your device, your data.” As an individual, you have personal info: some is private, some is public – you should be the one to decide. The problem is too often others – tech companies, smart assistants, algorithms – decide for us.

Amongst the big-tech oligopoly, Apple has been the company you can trust the most. That’s a big reason why I bought into Apple’s “walled-garden.” You could ride a chariot on top of those walls! In one ad, they boldly declared that, “What happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone.” I like the reassuring sound of that; it’s comforting.

But no company is perfect. We now have the recent discomforting news that Apple has, perhaps inadvertently, shown hypocrisy – which might as well be heresy – by violating its users’ privacy. They allowed contractors to listen to personal audio recordings coming from Siri, the digital assistant. It’s bad enough news that long-time Apple blogger, John Gruber of Daring Fireball, did not have good things to say about the situation. I think Apple has broken some trust.

Is there anyone you can trust these days to respect or protect your privacy? I think Apple is still the one big-tech company you can trust the most, and that should be borne out in how they respond to this new debacle.

Google Privacy

Besides Apple, I also bought into the Google universe, having just switched from iPad to Chromebook. I’m also leaning towards trading my iPhone for an Android phone. I like going all-in. This is mostly because I’m a tech-geek; gadgets are my thing. But the issue about privacy did weigh into my decision to leap over Apple’s garden walls into the world-wide-web that is Google’s domain.

If I value my digital privacy, how can I leave Apple for Google? Fair question.

In a blog post published earlier this year, I made the following simplistic statement:

“One reason I prefer Apple over Google is because of privacy. Google wants all your data to throw ads at you and feed their machine learning stuff. Apple respects your privacy and would rather not have your personal data.”

Like big-tech companies that update their privacy policies, I’ve updated my view on Google’s position towards privacy. The bottom line is that I find Google’s mix of privacy and technology acceptable. Maybe they’re not as trustworthy as Apple, but I think they’re trustworthy enough.

While I prefer Google did not collect and use so much of my personal data, they give me enough opportunities to opt-out or opt-in at particular points. Their Privacy and Security pages have greatly improved over time, and the GDPR keeps them in check.

As for Google throwing ads at me, the fact is ads are thrown at me everywhere all the time by numerous sources. It’s not as if Google is the sole dispenser of unpleasant ads. And on the contrary, the data Google collects is used to show me pleasant ads, which are relevant to me and my interests.

Also, the data Google collects is used to “feed their machine learning stuff.” Maybe Google’s A.I. Machine is a glutton, but I trust all that data gets put to good use. I know it benefits Google, making their machine algorithms more “intelligent” overall for many purposes.

For me, I get a lot of perks like being reminded that I have a bill scheduled for auto-pay coming up. How did Google know that? They “read” my email. But the “they” referred to here is not some group of human curators. My understanding is that it’s automatic, part of the Google machine learning mechanism. It’s powerful and magical albeit opaque and misunderstood. But again, the fruits of this labor are very practical and beneficial to me.

You could say I’ve chosen to trust Google. Frankly, switching from iPad to Chromebook, I had to. But it was still a choice. If I want to use Google’s devices and services, I must decide to trust them with my data.


Getting Personal

When it comes to putting my personal trust in Google, or any company, there’s always risk. Even Apple drops the ball. While some trust is based on a company’s lengthy privacy policy or catchy marketing, it also boils down to personal experience.

In all my years of both my wife and I using Google, we’ve had zero privacy problems. Instead, we’ve enjoyed the many benefits of Google using our own data for us, not against us. Google’s “free” services have served us well.

Although bad news about data hacks and surveillance is too prevalent and causes anxiety and uncertainty, we all have a personal choice when it comes to our data and how it gets used. How much control we have is sometimes up for debate. But we do, by and large, decide which companies we trust with our info. Hopefully, they’ll continue to earn it by showing more respect for our privacy.


What’s your take on digital privacy? Does location tracking or recorded audio listening creep you out? Do you trust Google or Apple more? Comment below, or write to me here! Thanks for reading!