Privacy debate still key after Apple launches

Apple’s new software launches, unveiled yesterday at its Worldwide Developers Conference, have interesting implications for the ongoing debate around the use of personal data by brands. Firstly, they should help to bring concepts like ‘the quantified self’ and ‘the internet of things’ even further into the mainstream discourse.

jonny bacon

The notion of digitally connected products that measure our vital statistics or control our home appliances is tentatively seeping into the public consciousness thanks to products like Nike Fuelband and Nest thermostats, but Apple’s decision to create comprehensive platforms like HealthKit and HomeKit should accelerate awareness and increase uptake of this new technology.

Secondly, the products position Apple as a custodian of its users’ personal data to a greater extent than ever before. Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, said yesterday that HealthKit will act as “a single place” for pooling and holding the data from all other health applications available on the iPhone and iPad. This will create a composite profile of a person’s physical wellbeing that will be available within Apple’s new Health app. In other words, Apple could be the ‘digital doctor’ we consult in future for all our health concerns.

Finally, the new platforms appear to signal a willingness from Apple to open itself up to new collaborations with brands and fellow technology suppliers. In the case of HomeKit, for example, this will involve partnerships with brands like Honeywell thermostats, Philips Hue lights and Broadcom. This openness is a natural and necessary consequence of ‘the internet of things’, but it will mean more personal data passing between more companies too.

All of these developments are bound to make privacy-conscious consumers twitchy. According to a report in The Telegraph last week, the demand for data protection services has boomed in the year since Edward Snowden blew the whistle on the huge internet surveillance operation carried out by America’s security services.

Kenton Ward, co-founder of ticketing platform Bookitbee, told the newspaper: “After the Snowden affair, one in four people we speak to now asks whether their data is being held in the UK.”

Tech giants like Apple must therefore tread carefully as they launch new services that aim to fundamentally change the way people live their lives. Google is set to hold its own developer conference later this month, but the race to be the market leader of ‘the internet of things’ should not distract from the importance of consumer privacy. Transparency and cooperation with consumers will help brands to avert another data scandal.