The disconnect in Apple’s latest privacy-centric ad

Apple has been using the privacy narrative for a few years, in its advertising. Apple is perhaps the only company in the entire world that could convincingly (ok, reasonably convincingly, given that they have a deal with Google for a lot of money, to make Chrome the default search engine on all their devices) use the privacy angle in their communication. Except perhaps DuckDuckGo, but there is no comparison at all.

So, Apple latest privacy-focused ad intrigued me quite a bit.

It is funny, no doubt on that at all. It pokes fun at oversharing, with a privacy angle.

Now, oversharing, as a word, is more associated with TMI (too much information) on social media, and less to do with sharing sensitive, private information with which we could be harmed by bad actors. But, within the context of the ad, that is not a big deal, given the meaning implied.

While people voluntarily announce their private digital habit details to humorous effect in the ad, each ‘share’ is meant to depict a specific feature of Apple’s devices.

For instance, when the man in the public transport announces his browsing history loudly, that is about Safari’s intelligent tracking prevention.

The office co-workers conversation is about iMessage’s end-to-end encryption.

The other details announced, like credit card number, email ID, health data etc. are supposed to indicate that these data, captured by Apple’s many devices, remain only with the user, and no one else, including Apple that does not monetize these details.

There is typical advertising exaggeration employed to good effect and mine humor naturally.

Where I felt a disconnect was with the recipients of these private details intended in the ad.

The predominant problem around privacy now is with big tech. and marketing firms exploiting our private details by selling and reselling it to monetize them. The people in the public transport or the cinema theater or the restaurant are not the intended recipients of our digital private details – they don’t care what we searched or what our credit card detail is – they have enough problems to deal with, on their own.

In any case, we individuals are reasonably careful about not revealing our private details with fellow individuals – where we are helpless is when such data is scraped by large tech. and marketing firms.

For example, if the same ad turned the focus on who uses the data, instead of who volunteers to expose it, it’d make a lot more sense. So, if I walk into a cinema theater, and the doorman says, “You are going to love this film! After all, you searched the lead actor 227 times in the last month alone!”.

Or, the restaurant’s waiter tells the woman, “Madam, you cannot order that! After all, you are actively trying to get pregnant, aren’t you?”.

Now, that is more creepy and less funny, I do understand that – but that is also more realistic of the promise Apple makes.

Making fellow individuals the forced-recipients of our private details is a new narrative in Apple’s frequent attempt at privacy-focused advertising.

Take for example, the few earlier privacy-focused ads of Apple.

In March 2019’s ‘Privacy Matters’, the scenes show how we actively avoid others in public peeking into what we do, as a way to extrapolate it to our digital behavior. The physical lock is introduced as a way to make us remember that if we value our privacy in the real world, we should care for it in the digital world too.

In this ad, people are shown to be cautious when in public. This is the complete opposite of what is shown in the new ad. where the same people throw caution to the wind, only to mine humor out of that situation.

In another ad from March 2019, called ‘The Answer’, the narrative focuses on Safari’s privacy options.

In June 2019’s ‘Inside Joke’, a woman is reading jokes on her phone and is laughing hysterically… while at a salon! Others know that she’s having a great time, but do not know what is making her laugh so much. The crux is about iMessage’s end-to-end encryption.

(An aside: What is particularly intriguing is that all these older, privacy-focused ads have been removed from Apple’s YouTube page! All the online publications that had embedded them are showing a blank now. You can only find these ads with great difficulty by searching for the titles of the ads directly on YouTube, if it has been re-uploaded by someone else.)

The latest ad is a stark turn away from big tech. firms like Google and Facebook and big ad networks exploiting our private data… to showing that completely random individuals we stumble upon everyday in public are somehow interested in our private details. And therein lies the disconnect.

This seems particularly contrasting in the face of Apple recently delaying its new privacy rules after some consternation from Facebook.

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