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The New Digital Divide: Privacy

Prof. Rom Feria

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At this year’s World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC), Apple highlighted more privacy features coming to consumers when the next generation OS X and iOS get released this September.

iOS 13 and iPadOS 13 (the iPad specific version of iOS) will come with numerous new features, such as Dark Mode, QuickPath Typing on keyboard, Look Around on Maps, and External Drive support for Files, among others. Android users have enjoyed most of these features for a long time already, so you will hear a lot of haters say that Apple, as always, copied it from Android. Well, news flash, the same goes the other way.

The privacy features, however, are something that will not be easy to copy, not because of technical challenges, but because of business requirements. Android claims to protect user privacy only if it does not affect their revenue generation, their data collection. Case in point, Android will allow you to automatically purge your location history every three months — but not any sooner. Why not purge it right after it is used by a specific application? Again, this is not technically impossible, Android won’t do it. iOS 13 has that setting — you allow an application to use location just once. Should you allow the application access your location whilst it is running, iOS will inform you which specific locations were collected.

Another privacy feature concerns photo sharing — each photo taken by your device embeds location information, by default. When you share the photo, your share the embedded location with it. With iOS 13, you are prompted if you want the location stripped off or not before you share it.

There are other privacy features coming with the new iOS 13 and iPadOS 13, something that I wish Android will copy. Unfortunately, these privacy features go against the very heart of Android, collecting user data.

Android is not impossible to lock-down and strip off of these data collecting features — take a look at LineageOS. Unfortunately, no manufacturer is willing to take the risk of having LineageOS as their product’s out-of-the-box OS. Google blames Apple for making privacy a luxury feature — Apple is not known to cater to the low-end market, so why blame them? Shouldn’t Android device manufacturers be blamed for not making a privacy-oriented smartphone that is affordable? Don’t expect Google to offer a privacy-oriented Pixel — that will never happen. Frankly, I am hoping local smartphone manufacturers (I’m looking at you, Cherry Mobile) will be the first to offer an affordable, sub-USD$100 LineageOS-based model — I, for one, would be first in line to buy it.

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