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What We Learned From Apple’s New Privacy Labels

We all know that apps collect our data. Yet, one of the few ways to find out what an app does with our information involves reading a privacy policy.

Let’s be honest: Nobody does that.

So late last year, Apple introduced a new requirement for all software developers that publish apps through its App Store. Apps must now include so-called privacy labels, which list the types of data collected in an easily scannable format. The labels resemble a nutrition marker on food packaging.

These labels, which began appearing in the App Store in December, are the latest attempt by tech designers to make data security and digital privacy, which are linked, more accessible for all of us to understand. You might be familiar with earlier iterations, like the padlock symbol in a web browser. A locked padlock tells us that a website is more secure, while an unlocked one suggests that a website can be more susceptible to attack.

The question is whether Apple’s new labels will influence the choices people make. “After they read it or look at it, does it change how they use the app or stop them from downloading the app?” asked Stephanie Nguyen, a research scientist who has studied user experience design and data privacy.

To put the labels to the test, I pored over dozens of apps. Then I focused on the privacy labels for WhatsApp and Signal, the streaming music apps Spotify and Apple Music, and, for fun, MyQ, the app I use to open my garage door remotely. I learned plenty. The privacy labels showed that apps that appear identical in function can vastly differ in handling our information. I also found that lots of data gathering happen when you least expect it, including inside products you pay for. But while the labels were often illuminating, they sometimes created more confusion.

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