Apple gets privacy-protecting data pollution patent

Privacy / Clones (Shutterstock / Hasloo Group)

One remarkable thing about Apple is that it has generally made decisions in favor of preserving its customers privacy rather than collecting data about their preferences or activities — or making it easy for third parties to do so without Apple users’ explicit permission. However, now the company has a patent on technology that could take an active role in preserving users’ privacy. Titled “Techniques to pollute electronic profiling,” the patent essentially describes methods that can be used to disseminate false information about individuals, making it more difficult for marketers, analytics companies, and even governments to collate accurate profiles of Internet users’ activities, preferences, and attitudes.

The basic idea behind the patent is to produce false online identities specifically designed to generate false digital noise to throw automated profilers and trackers off the scent of what someone is really doing online. These “clone” identities would appear to perform searches and engage in other online activities quite separate from a user’s true activities: folks who are particularly interested in Apple rumors might have clone identities that appear to be deeply interested in English cricket or petrochemical production in the southeastern United States. Similarly, someone pregnant with their first child might have clone identities that appear deeply interested in geriatric medicine, teen pop stars, or motocross to help obscure any baby-related activity — the kind of thing marketers pounce on like squirrels on peanuts.

The technology is fundamentally different from so-called anonymizers and anti-tracking technologies (including the new “Do Not Track” initiative) in that it doesn’t try to prevent the collection of legitimate data. Rather, it attempts to make the legitimate data difficult to pick out from the chaff and noise of apparently-identical material generated by “clones.”

The patent isn’t actually something Apple came up with on its own: it was originally assigned to Stephen Carter of Novell back in 2007. The patent came to Apple back in February as part of the Justice Department’s approval of the Google/Motorola merger. Interestingly, the patent was not part of the block of patents Novell sold to Microsoft as part of its own acquisition by Attachmate back in early 2011.

The patent as much as acknowledges its profile-pollution techniques would amount to just one step in an arms race in privacy protection: no doubt, analytics and tracking firms would respond to profile pollution with ever-more-sophisticated technology of their own designed to winnow out bogus information from real data they can act on or sell to marketers. Nonetheless, the idea is perhaps a better fit at Apple than at many other companies. For instance, Apple was not only among the first to implement Do Not Track, but is cracking down on the use of device UUIDs to track individual iOS users, and with iBookstore famously butted heads with the publishing industry over turning over customer data on subscribers. That’s not the kind of thing Google—itself one of the most pervasive online profilers on the planet—is ever likely to do.

[Image via Shutterstock / Hasloo Group Production Studio]

Deals

Amazon Prime Day deals are ending, but you can still get great bargains

Prime Day 2019 has come to an end for Amazon, but that doesn't mean the Prime Day deals are over. With deals from Walmart, Best Buy, and Amazon still going on, this massive shopping event is continuing on through the week.
Mobile

It's still worth boarding this fleet of old flagship phones if you want to save

Do you really need to blow your savings to get the latest smartphone, or is it worth looking at the top phones from yesteryear? We highlight some old flagships that are still worth buying and discuss new budget phones as an alternative.
Movies & TV

Apple TV+: Everything we know about Apple’s Netflix-style streaming service

Apple has an ambitious slate of original programming it has been developing for its streaming service Apple TV+, and now we know some details about where and when we'll be able to see it. Here's everything we know about Apple TV+ so far.
Mobile

Free yourself! How to unlock a phone from the icy hands of your wireless carrier

Do you want to know how to unlock a phone through your carrier or a third-party service like DoctorSIM? Regardless of which way you want to go, we've compiled a list of requirements and methods for doing so.
Mobile

A.I. photo filters use neural networks to make photos look like Picassos

Artificial Intelligence apps put a novel spin on social network-style photo filters. Instead of just overlaying an effect, these photo filters use machine learning and neural networks to transform an image into a predetermined style.
Wearables

FCC filing reveals impressive specs for luxury Movado Connect 2.0 smartwatch

It's been a while since we saw a smartwatch from luxury watchmaker Movado, but that drought may be over soon. FCC filings for the Movado Connect 2.0 have surfaced, and they paint a picture of a high-spec smartwatch.
Deals

Walmart extends Prime Day sale into Sunday: 4K TV, Apple, and Smart Watch deals

Prime Day 2019 has come to an end for Amazon, but that doesn't mean the deals are over. Walmart's Prime Day sale has been extended into the weekend. With 4K TVs, Apple Watches, and Nintendo Switch deals, there are great savings.
Deals

Walmart drops price of latest Apple AirPods down to just $145

Looking to flex with new AirPods? Walmart somehow still has the latest AirPods discounted to just $145 and available for next day shipping if you order in the next 10 hours.
Mobile

The best mobile collage apps, for when a single image or video just won't cut it

Today's collage apps combine images and videos into a crafted presentation complete with fonts, stickers, memes, and other elements that tells a story, instead of relying on a single iconic representation of a place or event.
Deals

Amazon hacks nearly $300 off the price of this 13-inch MacBook Air

Amazon is selling a 13-inch Retina display MacBook Air at nearly $300 off of its original price. In addition to a Retina display, this MacBook Air features 256GB of SSD storage and two Thunderbolt 3 ports.
Computing

Lost without Print Screen? Here's how to take a screenshot on your Mac

Whether you prefer to use keyboard shortcuts or applications such as Grab and Preview, this guide will teach you how to take a screenshot on a Mac. Once you know how, you'll be able to capture images within seconds.
Mobile

Text up a storm with the best messaging apps for iOS and Android

These days, most people tend to favor digital messages over phone calls. We have the best messaging apps that allow you to share photos and documents, send text messages, and more with end-to-end encryption.
Mobile

Seeking photo storage and backup in the cloud? Google Photos gets the picture

Google Photos offers free, unlimited photo storage in the cloud, making photos instantly accessible and sharable. Google also uses artificial intelligence image analysis to organize photos and videos, making them easy to search and edit.
Computing

Listen up Apple: Here’s how to fix the Touch Bar once and for all

If you’re wondering what the point of the MacBook Pro’s Touch Bar is, you’re not alone. We know it’s got potential, but it’s never managed to hit the heights of what it promised. Here’s what Apple must do to change it for the…