John Paczkowski

Recent Posts by John Paczkowski

Apple: “Our Business Does Not Depend on Collecting Personal Data”

Apple on Tuesday published a formal report on federal government data requests and in so doing became the first tech company to disclose such inquiries by both account and device.

Foremost, the document explains Apple’s philosophy on customer privacy. “… Our business does not depend on collecting personal data,”* the report said in an obvious poke at Google, Facebook and others. “We have no interest in amassing personal information about our customers. We protect personal conversations by providing end-to-end encryption over iMessage and FaceTime. We do not store location data, Maps searches, or Siri requests in any identifiable form.”

The news comes in the months following major allegations leveled against the U.S. National Security Agency by former employee Edward Snowden; it is a series of events which has done much to foster general feelings of public distrust in technology companies, and their ability to keep customer information safe and secure.

Apple has hardly been the only technology company to issue transparency reports. Google pioneered the practice years ago, and other giants like Microsoft, Twitter, Facebook and Yahoo have since followed suit. Along with Apple, many of these companies have lobbied the government to loosen some of the legal strictures applied to the amount and types of information that can be divulged.

The report continues, detailing Apple’s methods for handling national security orders and then lists them by country, breaking them down into account requests and device requests. The former typically involve personal information about an account holder — name, address and occasionally stored photos or email. The latter typically involve customer contact information used to register a device. Device requests, as you might imagine, are often made in regard to lost or stolen iPhones and iPads, and initiated by Apple customers. Account requests are more likely to come at the behest of government agencies like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, and Apple isn’t particularly happy about them or the disclosure rules it must observe in fulfilling them.

“At the time of this report, the U.S. government does not allow Apple to disclose, except in broad ranges, the number of national security orders, the number of accounts affected by the orders, or whether content, such as emails, was disclosed,” Apple writes in its report. “We strongly oppose this gag order, and Apple has made the case for relief from these restrictions in meetings and discussions with the White House, the U.S. Attorney General, congressional leaders, and the courts.”

And until the company sees some success on that front it can only disclose government data requests in broad, tough-to-parse ranges. Given that, Apple can say only that between January 1, 2013, and June 30, 2013, it received between 1,000 and 2,000 U.S. law enforcement requests spanning 2,000-3,000 different accounts. It objected to 0-1,000 of them and provided information on the same range. In terms of device requests, the company received 3,542 of them, targeting 8,605 devices, and provided data for 3,110 of them — about 88 percent.

Below, the document in full.

Mike Isaac contributed to this report.


* Note that while this may be a straightforward denial, it isn’t a blanket one.

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