Just when you thought Apple wasn’t integrated into your life enough, the company just won a patent for a system that targets ads based on how much money people have. This is the same Apple that’s promised not to monetise your data. As Tim Cook said last year: “You’re not our product.” Until you are, apparently.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) just awarded Apple the targeted ad technology patent today, but it’s been in the works for a while. The system sounds like a cross between Google reading your Gmail messages in order to serve more relevant ads and that one scene in Minority Report.
According to the patent, Apple’s new invention is designed “to analyse the user’s available credit in order to assess the likelihood of a user being able to purchase advertised goods and/or services.” Why so curious? “An advantage of such targeted advertising is that only advertisements for goods and services which particular users can afford, are delivered to these users.”
This idea is particularly interesting not only because it’s futuristic but because it appears to be an about-face on Apple’s attitudes towards monitoring users’ most personal data. In the past year or so, Tim Cook has been on a fierce campaign against ad-driven companies like Google and Facebook. At a dinner hosted by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) last month, the Apple CEO said bluntly:
Our privacy is being attacked on multiple fronts… Some of the most prominent and successful companies have built their businesses by lulling their customers into complacency about their personal information. They’re gobbling up everything they can learn about you and trying to monetize it. We think that’s wrong. And it’s not the kind of company that Apple wants to be.
Unless Apple decides to install this patented new targeted advertising system into every Apple product on Earth, that is. There’s no real reason to believe that will happen. Apple patents all kinds of crazy inventions, but technology that watches your bank account balance in order to show you more relevant ads is markedly more Orwellian than a method to make iPhones fall like cats. At the very least, it’s an indication that Apple is thinking about the possibilities of leveraging user data for business purposes.
It should be said that the security side of this story is one way that Apple might dodge the “monetising user data” accusation. Apple Pay, for instance, uses heavy encryption and keeps all sensitive data stored on the user’s device. So it’s possible that Apple’s targeted ad idea would not involve hosting your bank account balance on an Apple server.
But still. Looking at your own bank account balance can be stressful enough. We don’t really need Apple (or its advertisers) taking a peek, too.
Image by Raffael Hannemann