How nutritious are these labels?
Is it fair that third-party apps on iOS need to display privacy ‘nutrition labels’ in their App Store listings from next month, but users will have no easy way of seeing how that compares to the privacy offered by Apple’s own stock apps that come with iPhones and iPads?
Facebook’s WhatsApp thinks not. As Axios reports
, WhatsApp isn’t happy about the disparity::
“We think labels should be consistent across first and third party apps as well as reflect the strong measures apps may take to protect people’s private information,” a WhatsApp spokesperson told Axios.
To be clear, Apple will offer the nutrition labels for the stock iOS apps, but they’ll be on the Apple website if those apps aren’t on the App Store. If you’re searching for a messaging app and decide to compare the privacy of a bunch of competing apps, you won’t be able to easily see whether they’re any better or worse than Apple’s own Messages, because who’s going to run off to the website to check? More likely you’ll just assume Messages is fine because it comes with the phone.
And even if you do hunt out Apple’s own labels, they don’t tell a complete story. Axios again:
“Our teams have submitted our privacy labels to Apple but Apple’s template does not shed light on the lengths apps may go to protect sensitive information,” a WhatsApp spokesperson said. “While WhatsApp cannot see people’s messages or precise location, we’re stuck using the same broad labels with apps that do.”
Context is important, and if it’s impossible to convey details like the use of end-to-end encryption, that risks misleading consumers and harming apps that are taking pro-privacy steps. Say what you like about Facebook’s approach to user data, WhatsApp has got a point here.
Apple is always keen to paint itself as pro-privacy, and these labels are a step in the right direction. But unless they rapidly evolve to counter developers’ concerns, in some cases they could do more harm than good.