Apple may be the undisputed privacy leader, but it’s not doing enough

For years now, Apple has trumpeted its commitment to the privacy of its customers. Unlike most of its competitors, Apple’s business model (primarily selling products and services, not advertising) allows it to succeed without relying on collecting personal information from its customers. It’s a big advantage, and Apple knows it.

But when I look at Apple’s product strategy, I’m surprised at all the ways that the company has failed to take advantage of its unique position. From operating-system features to new services, the company should double down on privacy—and widen the lead it has over its competitors.

Get aggressive in other Apple apps

Apple has done a pretty good job of managing privacy inside Safari. Using the web leaks information in some fundamental ways, but Apple has done a lot to reduce the amount of tracking and profiling that can be done when you’re using Safari. And of course, Apple’s new tracking policies have made Facebook very, very angry.

But the company can do more. Last week, Daring Fireball’s John Gruber pointed out the privacy issues in Mail. Messages can have embedded trackers in the form of invisible images, and by default Apple Mail loads those images.

Yes, you can turn off the automatic loading of images—but that means that most email messages you get look broken. Apple gives you a way to load images with a single tap—but then all of the images get loaded. And you can’t set messages from people and services you trust to automatically load all images, so you have to do it every time.

Apple could do so much better. At the very least, it should be more active in blocking invisible tracking images from loading at all. But since even a legitimate image can be used as a tracker, it might be worth considering a proxy system that allows Mail to load remote images via an Apple server, concealing your identity. For now, there are third-party solutions to turn to.

Stop scams and spam

In recent weeks, developer Kosta Eleftheriou has been a one-man “bunco squad”, exposing fraudulent iOS apps with ridiculous subscription policies, pornographic apps targeted at kids, and endless streams of phony App Store reviews. This isn’t news. Developers have been reporting about the endless stream of scams on the App Store for years.

I get that patrolling something as huge as the App Store is a difficult task. But whatever Apple is doing, it’s simply not enough. Apple needs to protect all of its customers by making the App Store a safer place, and that means spending more money and hiring more people to remove scammy garbage from the App Store. It’s not worth the hit to Apple’s reputation to have this sort of thing operating in the App Store, even if Apple’s taking a percentage of every scammy sale.