If Apple Really Values Privacy, Now Is Their Moment To Show It

Anupam Chugh

As Google faces the heat in the biggest antitrust lawsuit, an Apple search engine could solve a lot of the problems

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Apple for long has branded itself as the undisputed king of privacy and a data security leader. “We at Apple believe that privacy is a fundamental human right” is a statement you’ve heard from Tim Cook across multiple Apple conferences.

Yet, at the end of the day, the company has done very little to oppose surveillance capitalism and take a stance against atrocities conducted by the other Silicon Valley giants. Barring a few moves that had actually help their ecosystem more than others(such as restricting Google Stadia and Microsoft Cloud gaming platforms), the iPhone maker has largely stayed away from making bold moves to showcase their commitment to privacy.

Today, as Google finds itself in the biggest antitrust lawsuit of the past two decades, Apple has unbelievably stayed quiet. It’s no mystery that Apple has a lot to lose if the case against Google falls apart given their indirect involvement in the scrutiny concerns.

Google pays Apple billions of dollars to be the default search engine on the Safari browser

As soon as Google got hit by the lawsuit for their unregulated monopoly, a lot of people laughed it off. Many thought the U.S. Department of Justice doesn’t have a case. More so, since Google was quick to deny the allegations by calling the lawsuit “deeply flawed”.

Specifically, Google responded with a rather politically correct answer stating: people use their search engine because they chose to do so, not because they’re forced to, or because they can’t find alternatives.

The DOJ quickly rebutted Google’s claims and accused them of fostering exclusive agreements and contracts with businesses to promote its services. This response is what made the antitrust lawsuit against Google a whole lot stronger as it shifted the narrative from Google’s search engine monopoly to something even bigger.

Google couldn’t foresee that the case wasn’t exactly against their highly flourishing search and advertising business. Instead, it was the U.S. government’s first attempt to alter the status quo of the Silicon Valley tech giants — who for long have been using anti-competitive tactics to exercise monopoly and keep smaller businesses at bay.

Very quickly, Google’s approximate $10 billion dollars annual deal with Apple became the heart of the lawsuit. For starters, Google’s exclusive deal with Apple ensures that its search engine stays the default one on the Safari browser. No non-tech-savvy user would ever figure out how to change the default search engine as it’s deeply engraved in the iOS settings.

According to the Justice Department, this deal is the prime reason why Google is occupying more than 90 percent of the internet search market today. That’s about twice as big as Apple’s market share in the smartphone space and significantly more than Amazon and Microsoft’s reach in the cloud domain.

An Apple search engine could be their moment of reckoning

Though the lawsuit has already put Google under the spotlight, yet it has posed some serious questions for Apple too. The same company whose been showcasing its values and commitment towards privacy has fostered a huge platform for Google to collect and harvest user data.

Moreover, despite cracking down on most third-party trackers in the latest Safari privacy updates, Apple has taken no action in restricting the Google Analytics tracker. The Cupertino tech giant might not be directly monetizing from the search engine data on your iPhone, but they are certainly earning a huge chunk of profit by giving Google exclusive access to it.

If Google ends up losing the case, it will have repercussions for Apple as well(revenue from Google is a significant part of Apple’s annual income). But before that happens, Apple does have a chance to redeem itself and show the world that their love for privacy isn’t hypocrisy.

Launching a privacy-focused search engine, be it an in-house one or by acquiring the niche DuckDuckGo might be two possible strategies that Apple could ponder upon.

Traditionally, to run a viable search engine one needs to have an advertisement model. But this comes at the expense of privacy and given that Apple is unlikely to compromise on it, one can expect them to leverage on-device intelligence to deliver personalized search results. Also, an Apple search engine might not be the most profitable venture for Apple, but it could certainly give them other advantages. A search engine that is deeply integrated into their ecosystem could help promote Apple services like News+ besides boosting Siri’s suggestions and Spotlight.

Conclusion

Apple has largely stayed away from scrutiny concerns by quietly establishing itself as the leader of user-data privacy. Yet, they’ve been a key enabler in allowing Google to become the king of search engines.

Before the case against Google falls apart, Apple has a chance to preserve its reputation in privacy by offering an alternate search engine. True, it won’t be easy money and would take years to stand a chance against Google Search. But still, for the world’s most valuable technology company which openly advocates its love for privacy, this could be their biggest opportunity to walk the talk.

This article was originally published on The Big Tech.

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