A woman walks past advertising for the new iPhone 11 smartphone at an Apple store. The company has just released new whitepapers on privacy. Picture: NICOLAS ASFOURI / AFP
A woman walks past advertising for the new iPhone 11 smartphone at an Apple store. The company has just released new whitepapers on privacy. Picture: NICOLAS ASFOURI / AFP

Apple fires shot in privacy war

Apple have fired another shot at Google over privacy, launching a series of whitepapers to highlight how its smartphones buck the trend to expose and trade users' private information.

Telecommunication and privacy experts say the move is the latest salvo in escalating "data wars" and a serious bid to make smartphone users aware of how their information is being harvested, shared, and used by third parties.

It also comes just one week after the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission filed a lawsuit against Google for allegedly misleading Australians about the collection of their location information in a case that could cost the company millions of dollars.

Apple has launched a new privacy website and whitepapers in the latest shot in the “data wars”. Picture: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images
Apple has launched a new privacy website and whitepapers in the latest shot in the “data wars”. Picture: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images

Apple launched its privacy website early this morning (Wed), including detailed whitepapers on how it handles users' location, shuts down snooping apps, and hide users' real email addresses.

Its location whitepaper, for example, explains that Apple Maps users are given random identifiers to prevent being tracked by name, and 'significant locations' they visit are encrypted to avoid being shared.

Other privacy features highlighted in the documents include masking users' web visits from advertisers, warning when apps repeatedly ask for users' location details, and anonymising requests to Siri.

Telsyte managing director Foad Fadaghi said whitepapers' release showed "data wars" between the tech companies were escalating, and were likely to become a tit-for-tat battle to convince Australian consumers to place more value on their personal information.

"The lines are being draw in the sand between Apple and Google by highlighting these differences in privacy," he said.

Mr Fadaghi said research showed consumers typically only became concerned about their private details being shared once they learned more about how their information was being exploited, which is why "you don't hear about it much from big companies".

"If you ask someone a general question, like whether they mind if their location is used to improve a service in future, the answer is typically yes," he said.

The latest Apple software adds new privacy features, including more alerts when apps asks for users’ location information. Picture: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images
The latest Apple software adds new privacy features, including more alerts when apps asks for users’ location information. Picture: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images

"But if you go into detail and say 'this data will be seen by this many people and shared among these organisations and it could be matched with other data,' it starts to become an issue. For consumers, privacy becomes an issue once they become aware of the details."

Swinburne University social media major director Belinda Barnet said Apple's move showed privacy considerations could become central when buying a smartphone in future, and may force other companies to lift their game.

"Privacy has become central to Apple's plan," she said. "If consumers are concerned about data privacy, they've started to use Apple's cloud system rather than Google's already because we know that Apple make money from devices, not from our data."

Apple's move also follows the ACCC's unprecedented case against Google, filed in the Federal Court last week.

The consumer watchdog claimed Google misled Australians about how it collected location information from them, and how this tracking could be turned off. ACCC chairman Rod Sims said it would seek "significant" penalties against the tech giant.

A Google spokeswoman said the company would defend its actions.