Google and Apple join hands to develop technology to help health agencies protect user privacy

Business, in truth, is pretty simple. We prefer to use the services of companies that use our data to sell more services to us. (Even if that privacy doesn’t work in our favor, it’s better than none.) Therefore, there are two ways for companies to protect their financial interests.

First, they have to get the public to agree that they have to protect our privacy. It may be that the cost to a company’s bottom line is nearly zero if the people we use agree that privacy matters. That’s how high-tech companies protect their interests — by getting users to go along with their proposals for greater privacy. And all big companies are big companies — even Pepsi can’t stand to be the outlier and this is why the public accepts a lot of the digital technologies that underpin our lives.

In Apple’s case, the Privacy Bill of Rights is a surprise, but it seems like the right sort of thing to do. Nobody really thinks privacy is worth the risk, and the prospect of giant, modern, mobile, high-tech companies using our data for profit is too much for most of us to bear. We should tolerate a little technical rigor on the matter. In this sense, Apple may find a new company to come after, namely Google, the dominant company in mobile, in large part because it has been able to rely on the public agreeing that privacy matters, and much of its available data is gleaned via the internet of things.

Both Apple and Google put a lot of effort into serving the public good — giving us our data without having to ask too many questions. Apple will probably not be the first company to exploit our data through surveillance and bullying, but its strategy might make it a bit easier for them to do so.

Yes, Apple will do the data orifice, wherever it is, not Google. And it will do this without any special incentive. The public won’t be inconvenienced. The advantage to the company is that it can charge a premium for its data, while still maintaining a generous, public service that is probably good for the public at large.

Apple and Google have both shown in the past that the public can get pretty fired up about the privacy of their data, although both feel the need to fend off public complaints because they fear public backlash. (Neither, however, seems to care much about public backlash because their customers are pretty much indifferent to public reaction.)

Apple will now get involved. You can already feel the bad publicity and media coverage and please, go along with us if you don’t like it. The FTC will now get involved.

Even more important, Google and Apple will move together to make changes in their data collection, use and management practices that improve the health of users and the privacy of their data. Even if both companies knew this wouldn’t really help their top and bottom lines, it’s better to serve the public than to serve the companies’ financial interests.

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