Apple Makes Differential Privacy Feature In iOS 10 Opt-In

Apple Inc. announced at last week’s developer conference that it will start collecting user data with iOS 10. The company wants to make Siri and iPhones better at predicting and suggesting information a user may need, but this will strictly be an opt-in feature. 

The company stated that it will use “differential privacy” in order to collect the necessary data. Differential privacy is a concept that aims to make queries more accurate in statistical databases while still maintaining the privacy of those who provide the data. In order to maintain user’s privacy, Apple will inject a small amount of “noise” so that each interaction on its own is meaningless. If you love math equations, check out this link to learn more about the equations behind differential privacy.


The data that is being collected is limited to four specific use cases. These include new words that users add to their local dictionaries, emojis typed by the user, deep links used inside apps (provided they are marked for public indexing), and lookup hints within notes. Apple will continue the predictive work it started with iOS 9. iOS searches within mail and messages to find potential calendar items or contacts. The devices also suggest apps and frequented locations as options for calendar events.

Apple claims it will not use iOS cloud-stored photos to power the image recognition features in iOS 10. Apple will rely on data sets to train its algorithms. They have not stated what data they are using for the algorithms, only that they are not using photos. 


Apple appears to be several changes in order to keep up with its competitors. Early this week Apple revealed that it left is beta kernel unencrypted. Apple remarked that it had experimented with this lack of encryption in order to optimize the operating system's performance without compromising security. 

Many critics have voiced concerns about this new approach. Some argue that is impossible to keep any identity hidden once it is in a database. Others argue that Apple is simply too late to game to make as much headway in AI as its competitors Google and Facebook. One 2013 legal research paper argued that the differential privacy method "will usually produce either very wrong research results or very useless privacy protections."

iOS 10 is currently only available in beta. It will officially be released this autumn.
Tags:  Apple, Privacy