Apple unveiled a host of new privacy features Wednesday night and said it would not unlock encrypted iPhones and iPads for law enforcement under most circumstances. The move comes as tech companies struggle to manage public concerns that they have been too obliging to government requests for user data.
The new measures were announced on the day that Apple rolled out iOS 8, its new mobile operating system. On a new privacy site, Apple outlines the new features, offers tips for users on how to manage their privacy, and explains how Apple will respond to government information requests.
"On devices running iOS 8, your personal data such as photos, messages (including attachments), email, contacts, call history, iTunes content, notes, and reminders is placed under the protection of your passcode," the company said. "Unlike our competitors, Apple cannot bypass your passcode and therefore cannot access this data. So it's not technically feasible for us to respond to government warrants for the extraction of this data from devices in their possession running iOS 8."
“This is a great move,” Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist for the ACLU, told the Washington Post. “This seems to be the result of pressure, because of the Snowden revelations. Apple seems to be putting user privacy ahead of many other things... There are going to be a lot of unhappy law enforcement officials.”
Apple is also touting its record of fighting for user's privacy, claiming that it has never created a "backdoor" for government agencies to access user data, a growing concern among consumers in the wake of reports on tactics used by the NSA and disclosed by Edward Snowden.
The company also said that it publishes all requests for data that are permitted by law.
"In the first six months of 2014, we received 250 or fewer of these requests," the company said.
A message from Apple CEO Tim Cook accompanied the site, pledging that the company would strive to be more transparent in how it handles user privacy.
We're publishing this website to explain how we handle your personal information, what we do and don't collect, and why. We're going to make sure you get updates here about privacy at Apple at least once a year and whenever there are significant changes to our policies.
A few years ago, users of Internet services began to realize that when an online service is free, you're not the customer. You're the product. But at Apple, we believe a great customer experience shouldn't come at the expense of your privacy.
Our business model is very straightforward: We sell great products. We don't build a profile based on your email content or web browsing habits to sell to advertisers. We don't "monetize" the information you store on your iPhone or in iCloud. And we don't read your email or your messages to get information to market to you. Our software and services are designed to make our devices better. Plain and simple.
Along with announcing the stance Apple is taking with government requests for data, the new site explains the privacy features in new iOS 8 apps and services. Apple also addresses how users can bolster security on their devices, something that has been of especially great concern following the apparent hacking of some celebrity iCloud accounts.