With last week’s announcement of the new iPhone 6 and Apple Watch, the tech giant has come under scrutiny from lawmakers, regulators, and the general public. Just one week after Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive officer, introduced the company’s latest offerings, Apple is seemingly running damage control. This may come as no surprise (to the company and consumers alike) especially given events occurring earlier this month, wherein hundreds of celebrities’ nude photos were misappropriated from iCloud. In recent weeks, Apple is responding with several measures to assuage public relations.

Last week, Apple introduced its latest line of products, including the iPhone 6, as well as Apple’s first entirely new product category since Steve Jobs announced the iPad in 2010: the Apple Watch. Along with this new hardware, Apple also released several health-monitoring features in iOS 8 (Apple’s latest mobile operating system for iPhone). The company’s “Health” app gives iPhone users and app-developers the ability to conveniently track a variety of health and fitness information, including heart rate, calories burned, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels. Along with Apple Watch, Apple also showed off “Apple Pay,” its payment technology disruptor. Apple Pay features a contactless “one touch” payment method, enabled by Near Field Communication (NFC) technology.

Between the company’s Health app and Apple Pay, naturally, consumers and regulators have concerns with users’ privacy. Brian Chen and Steve Lohr of The New York Times wrote, “No one has considered Apple a serious data company, until now.”

“For years, Apple has offered Internet services like email and online calendars. But Tuesday, with the introduction of health-monitoring technology and a new service that will allow people to buy things wirelessly with some Apple devices, the Cupertino, Calif., company positioned itself as a caretaker of valuable personal information, like credit card numbers and heart rates.”

Apple sent executives to Capitol Hill in the week after its announcements to address emerging privacy and security concerns. According to three congressional sources familiar with the matter, Apple’s chief technology officer and health product manager briefed the House Energy and Commerce Committee to “provide an overview of Apple’s new offerings, demonstrate the new products and discuss how Apple sees this market developing.”

In another effort to quiet tensions, Tim Cook explained in an interview with Charlie Rose on PBS that protecting customer’s security and privacy is the company’s “top goal.” Cook attempted to differentiate Apple from companies like Google, which according to Cook make their money primarily through “collecting gobs of personal data.” In a personal letter from the CEO himself, Cook wrote: “Our business model is very straightforward: We sell great products. We don’t build a profile based on your email content or web browsing habits to sell to advertisers. We don’t ‘monetize’ the information you store on your iPhone or in iCloud. And we don’t read your email or your messages to get information to market to you. Our software and services are designed to make our devices better. Plain and simple.”

The letter goes on to address government requests for data, where Cook attempts to clarify that the company has never worked with any government agency to create a “back door” in its products, and it has never allowed access to its servers. Furthermore, as part of what The Verge’s Chris Welch called a “privacy-focused publicity blitz,” Apple created a new page on its website dedicated to explaining how it handles government requests for information. “Unlike our competitors, Apple cannot bypass your passcode and therefore cannot access this data,” the company explains, “[s]o it’s not technically feasible for us to respond to government warrants for the extraction of this data from devices in their possession running iOS 8.”

Apple’s seemingly aggressive privacy campaign indicates how carefully the company is attempting to move into traditionally regulated fields. Try as it may to quiet concerns, the fact remains, lawmakers are keeping close watch. However, as Brian Chen notes, the Apple Watch only adds to a field of health-monitoring devices such as the Fitbit that are actually largely unregulated, since they are not deemed “medical devices” by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Apple undoubtedly knows how important it will be in coming months to artfully control the public’s perception of the company’s privacy practices.  But of course (although not unrelated) it will ultimately have to convince those in Washington.


–Chris Martucci

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