Why Apple doesn't need your personal data

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - APRIL 23: The Apple logo is displayed on the exterior of an Apple Store on April 23, 2013 in San Francisco, California. Analysts believe that Apple Inc. will report their first quarterly loss in nearly a decade as the company prepares to report first quarter earnings today after the closing bell. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Justin Sullivan

(MoneyWatch) Apple (AAPL) recently disclosed what kind of data the U.S. government has requested, much as Google (GOOG) has done for years. It's a practice others such as Facebook (FB), Microsoft (MSFT) and Yahoo (YHOO) have taken up as well.

But there's a big difference between what Apple reported and what the other companies have said the government is asking for. And that difference points to how Apple's business strategies are successful in a way that has become seemingly impossible for its competitors. The report makes it clear at the top:="http:>

Apple offers customers a single, straightforward privacy policy that covers every Apple product. Customer privacy is a consideration from the earliest stages of design for all our products and services. We work hard to deliver the most secure hardware and software in the world, including such innovative security solutions as Find My iPhone and Touch ID, which have made the iPhone both more secure and more convenient.

Perhaps most important, our business does not depend on collecting personal data. We have no interest in amassing personal information about our customers. We protect personal conversations by providing end-to-end encryption over iMessage and FaceTime. We do not store location data, Maps searches, or Siri requests in any identifiable form.

This statement, particularly the second, is remarkable given the direction the tech industry has taken. Companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and many others collect information on individual consumers because these players all depend at least in part on advertising as a revenue stream. All use consumer information to better target ads or to provide other services to their marketing clients.

Now, to be clear, Apple's saying it does not depend on collecting personal data is not the same as saying that it does not collect personal data. Clearly, there are types of data the company would collect in bulk as feedback on services like it Siri voice search engine.

But Apple's business model and strategy do not depend on selling advertising to third parties. The last time it tried that on iOS devices, the results were resoundingly bad. Apple makes its money in three primary ways:

  • Selling its own hardware
  • Selling its own software
  • Reselling third-party music, videos, software and other content

Personal data, outside that which allows quick and easy transactions, wouldn't necessarily do it much good. The company has a disciplined approach to creating and marketing a relatively small number of products. Other than temporarily promoting some of the third-party content, Apple doesn't seem intent on promoting specific items to particular consumers.

In other words, it may be true that Apple doesn't retain mountains of personal data, largely because it would be the corporate equivalent of hoarding old newspapers. If privacy becomes a bigger issue among consumers, it could give Apple a decided competitive advantage.

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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.