Privacy Will Be a Hard Sell, Even for Apple

Long time readers and listeners have heard me go on about privacy over and over and over again. It's something I care passionately about. Privacy from the government. Privacy from corporations. Privacy from each other. But I know I'm an outlier. Most folks don't care two puffs of wind about privacy. If they did, Google wouldn't be valued at US$182.4 billion.

Apple has been quietly championing privacy for a while now, especially under CEO Tim Cook. In the last 6-12 months, that quiet campaign has been getting noisier, culminating in a guest starring role during Apple's World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) keynote on Monday. Writing for Re/code, Walt Mossberg went so far as to say that "Apple's Latest Product Is Privacy."

Hair Force One and Privacy

Apple Senior Vice President of Software Engineering Craig Federighi during Monday's WWDC Keynote

Mr. Mossberg noted that Apple put privacy up on slides during the event, as shown in the image above. Apple also made the point that new features designed to make Siri "Proactive" leave personal data on your device. Apple is trying to make your data work for you, but in a way that leaves you "in control."

"We do it in a way that does not compromise your privacy," Mr. Federighi said during the keynote. "We don't mine your email, your photos, or your contacts in the cloud to learn things about you. We honestly just don't wanna know."

Tim Cook has said during interviews in the last two years that he thinks privacy is important and that some day customers will value their privacy. Personally, I'd love to think he's right, but is he? Will people ever really care about privacy? Especially when it comes to corporations having all their data? Young people in particular couldn't seem to care less as long as they get everything for "free."

I ask a lot of people about this sort of thing. There are definitely a few who eschew Google and Facebook in particular because their stock in trade is we, the product. I hear from readers and listeners who find the issue important, too, but the reality is that we are so in the minority. Most people do not care about being the product. They don't care that Google proudly claims, as former CEO Eric Schmidt once said: "We know where you are. We know where you've been. We can more or less know what you're thinking about."

That comment was made years ago, but Google has only gotten bigger, Android has only gotten bigger, Chromebooks have only become more accepted, and Google Docs, Gmail, and every other Google service has only become more widespread.

With that in mind, I think it's going to take a lot more than a few (awesome) speeches, interviews, and slide shows for Apple to make its protection of our privacy the kind of selling point it should be. That's even more so considering that services like Google Now will remain more useful than Apple's Siri Proactive Assistant simply because of the differences in the two company's approach to privacy.

There's little doubt the brain trust in charge of Apple understands this. If so, Monday's slides- are merely another step in an escalating campaign. Mr. Mossberg wrote rhetorically, "I can't help but wonder whether we'll one day see Apple privacy ads during the Super Bowl, complete with the company's typical gorgeous images and earnest executives speaking against a glow-y white background."

Ignoring the particulars of that thought, let's hope Mr. Mossberg has it right. More importantly, let's hope that people all over the world decide to pay attention.