Now Would Be a Great Time for an Apple VPN

2 minute read
| The Back Page

There are many things I wish Apple would release, make, or launch. Streaming TV, a smarthome hub, new freaking Macs, the list goes on. But something new on my mind I wish Apple would do, an Apple owned and operated virtual private network (VPN). With the current government in the U.S. selling us out to broadband providers and surveillance capitalism on the rise, an Apple VPN would be a welcome port in the storm.

If Apple Operated a VPN

Apple VPN

The idea occurred to me during Wednesday’s Apple Context Machine. The original idea was for me and Jeff to revisit old rumors about Apple launching an NVNO or even a high-speed broadband service like Google Fiber. It would be great to get our Internet access from a company not predicated on surveillance capitalism.

In the middle of that conversation, though, I had a better idea. What I really want is an Apple VPN. I want an Apple VPN owned and operated by Apple, with built-in support in iOS, macOS, and tvOS. I want to be able to turn it on with a switch, and I’m willing to pay extra for it.

Building a VPN would be easier than any physical network and could be rolled out to Apple customers through software. More importantly to me, I would trust Apple to clearly and concisely layout its privacy and security policies for such a service, and to then stick by those policies. Apple’s track record in this area is excellent.

Surveillance Capitalism

I’m sick to death of surveillance capitalism. This is the practice of offering services, and even physical products, for free or a nominal fee, in order to amass a sellable profile. Surveillance capitalists spy on your life, your data, the people you know, the things you do, and everything else about you so that you can then be sold to advertisers.

Worse than advertisers using our data to peddle targeted products—which in and of itself isn’t bad—is that those companies will inevitably be hacked. Hacked companies have a track record of not telling us our information is resting comfortably with Chinese/Russian/criminal hackers who will use to steal from us or even steal our identities.

The Republican party voting to let ISPs sell our data—and making it harder for any future government to reverse that decision—is merely the latest insult heaped upon one surveillance capitalism example after another.

Google’s entire business model, and Facebook’s, too. Home wiretap devices like Amazon Alexa and Google Home. TVs that spy on us. Every single product or service where we, the consumer, are the product being bought and sold on the open market.

Amazon Alexa Meme

It’s funny because it’s true

I’m sick of it.

Apple’s Track Record on Privacy

Apple is all but alone among platform providers selling us products at a profit rather than engaging in surveillance capitalism. There are very interesting companies like Purism built on evading surveillance capitalism, but I like Apple products. Plus, Apple says privacy is important and works hard to preserve it.

Here are six examples of Apple CEO Tim Cook on the importance of privacy: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

I found those examples with three seconds of searching. My point is Apple is the one tech giant talking about this stuff and doing something about it.

There are many great VPNs, but there’s a level of trust we must convey on the VPN provider when it comes to privacy. In addition, VPNs require some level of technology savvy. Apple is ideally situated to make a real difference in minimizing our exposure to surveillance capitalism with a VPN that’s broadly accessible.

I’ve not heard that Apple is working on a VPN. Being software-based, though, it is the kind of technology Apple could develop in secret. But an Apple VPN sure would be a welcome addition to the Apple family.

16 Comments Add a comment

  1. an Apple VPN would be a welcome port in the storm.

    Pun intended.

    I like the idea however in Andrew Orr’s article today about VPNs he said

    don’t use providers in a Five Eyes country. The Five Eyes are Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom and the United States. This refers to the level of cooperation surrounding their spy agencies like the NSA and GCHQ.

    So while I like the idea I would want the option of not routing through Cupertino or Prineville or Reno or South Carolina, or anywhere in Canada or the other Five Eyes countries. The VPN I’m experimenting with lets me route through any of their servers. Currently some of my traffic goes through Germany and some through The Netherlands.

    One thing I am running into though is Siri. Neither Siri nor Dictation will work when the VPN is on. Siri comes back with a message saying “could not connect”, and dictation just won’t start. Turning the VPN off solves the issue, but this is a pain. What I’d like is the ability to tell my Mac or device to use the VPN for these apps and not for those others. That would be very useful.

  2. This is a brilliant idea, Bryan. Obviously our government places no value nor has any incentive to mind its own damn business (as well as leaving our tracks bare to anyone who wants to buy and sell it). Since so many Apple customers have multiple devices connected to cloud services, this to me seems like a great feature that they could provide like no other tech company.

  3. geppo74

    In order to do it in a good fashion, Apple shouldn’t officially own the company providing the VPN service. There are many legal aspects related to traffic logs which have to be taken into account; regulations changing on a nation basis when not on a state basis for US.
    What Apple instead could develop is a new semi-proprietary protocol for VPN, more secure than the actual ones, proving an open source API fairly easy to be adopted and used on any platform, including Windows system and of course *nix derived systems.
    This will guarantee them revenues coming from patent rights, which will pay the bills for substaining this opensource project, as well as “investing” (i.e. controlling without owning) in minor companies providing the VPN service globally.

  4. Bryan- I’m completely and entirely on board with you dislike of Google, et al, and their respective models of making money. I despise this slimy approach to doing business. But don’t think for one moment that this is purely a Republican issue. Remember- Eric Schmidt Google literally had a seat at the table of inner sanctum (Obama’s WH) 150+ times over the last 8 years. Can’t stand our government in instances like this.

  5. gprovida

    Three issues:

    VPNs are complex with all sorts of “features” and strange licensing terms. Therefore, it is critical that aside from legalese do you trust the company, in case of Apple, I do.

    Commercial exploitation of my private data by ISPs and others is risky, annoying, and i find a serious violation of my privacy. There is NO remedy from the US Congress who are the lapdogs of marketing and advertising. Therefore, an Apple VPN option would be very very very very welcome and I could trust to not mess up my streaming services and apply across all devices, Macs, iPads, iPhones, Watches, and TVs. In other words, any way I might access the Internet is protected. I realize not perfect, but a huge leap forward.

    Government spying is a much more complex issue related to which Government, whether under a “real” warrant” versus the carte blanche that security agencies have, and does their intrusion open security vulnerabilities. While I wish we had the EU protections and priority, US OK, but others Iran, China, etc are awful. So not expecting Apple to fix these.

  6. @jdoc
    Every single Republican in Congress voted YES on this issue (to allow ISPs to sell your info). Every single Democrat in Congress voted NO on this issue. At no point in the 8 year Obama administration did the Democrats succeed in or even attempt to introduce a bill that would do what this one does.

    I would say this is ENTIRELY a Republican issue.

  7. Bryan:

    An Apple-owned and serviced VPN would indeed be welcome. Hopefully, Apple continue to pay attention to pay attention to the chatter in the Apple-verse, and will not only consider but respond to this.

    That said, I think it is important to distinguish commercial from government owned or sponsored surveillance. You can stash criminal activity under either or separately, as it tends to be a melange of state and commercial, specific activity/target depending. More specifically, a distinction should be made between commercial surveillance and even government meta-data surveillance and a personally targeted investigation, particularly by an intelligence or law-enforcement agency.

    I just commented on Andrew Orr’s excellent VPN review that, in my opinion, the privacy protection real value of a VPN lies in its thwarting commercial surveillance, or as you and Pepcom CEO Todd Weaver refer to as ‘surveillance capitalism’. One can even argue that they can provide an additional layer of anonymity to state-sponsored meta-data surveillance, which is non-personal harvesting.

    If, on the other hand, if a state actor or law enforcement agency takes a personal interest in you, there is little in the way of commercially available privacy solutions that will withstand the level of assault and compromise that those resources can bring to bear.

    These two scenarios, data harvesting by commercial or government interests, vs targeted personal investigation, are distinct and should not be conflated. A VPN is likely to be a buttress against the former, but of modest if any benefit against the latter.

    Still, Apple have an excellent track record in both demonstrated privacy commitment and security, and I too would trust them to get VPN right, nor would I see a lawfully executed request by law enforcement or the intelligence community for a specific individual’s records, who is the subject of an investigation, as a deterrent to using Apple’s service. After all, Tim Cook has stated more than once that Apple already cooperate with law enforcement on such requests, despite misrepresentations of Apple’s position.

  8. Did I misread something? According to an article from TechCrunch, 190 Democrats and 15 Republicans voted against the measure.

    As of the 2016 election results as stated in the New York Times, there were 194 Democrats and 241 Republicans in the House of Representatives. As of March 1, 2017, the U.S. House of Representatives House Press Gallery listed 237 Republicans and 193 Democrats and 5 vacancies.

    So, not ALL Republicans voted to allow ISPs to sell our data. And what about the remaining 3 Democrats in the House?

    From the article:

    “Today in a 215-205 vote on Senate Joint Resolution 34 (H. Res. 230), the House voted to repeal broadband privacy regulations that the Obama administration’s FCC introduced in 2016. In a narrower vote than some expected, 15 Republicans broke rank to join the 190 Democrats who voted against the repeal. The FCC rules, designed to protect consumers, required ISPs to seek consent from their customers in order to share their sensitive private data (it’s worth noting that ISPs can collect it, either way). For consumers, the rollback is a bad deal no matter how you slice it.”

    https://techcrunch.com/2017/03/28/house-vote-sj-34-isp-regulations-fcc/

  9. I like the idea too but as soon if Apple did this the usual suspects would be crowing that Apple is the friend of the terrorist. They are virtually doing it now with messages and device encryption. This move would indeed require some courage.

  10. John Kheit

    Great article Bryan. Agree.

    I’d go a step further. I wish Apple would make this a part of their totally incoherent cloud services. Make a monthly all in cloud service. Unlimited photos. Apple Music. Massive iCloud Drive. And the vpn service thrown in as a toggle switch right in Control Center when you swipe up.

  11. John Kheit

    Great article Bryan. Agree.

    I’d go a step further. I wish Apple would make this a part of their totally incoherent cloud services. Make a monthly all in cloud service. Unlimited photos. Apple Music. Massive iCloud Drive. And the vpn service thrown in as a toggle switch right in Control Center when you swipe up. A bit like amazon prime. 100 bux a year. All in.

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