Apple slams Android as a 'massive tracking device' in internal slides revealed in Google antitrust battle

Whinges about Chrome maker's privacy stance while taking billions to, er, use its search engine

The US Department of Justice released a series of documents in its antitrust trial against Google yesterday, including documents that reveal Apple made its default search deal with the Chocolate Factory despite considerable privacy reservations. 

Among the dump of documents released by the DoJ Thursday was an internal Apple slide deck that was an exhibit entered into the case when Apple's SVP of services Eddy Cue testified in September.

Cue reportedly told the court that Apple made its $18 to $20 billion deal with Google to make the search giant the default on Apple gear because there wasn't a valid alternative engine. 

But, as the now-public – but still largely redacted – slide deck indicates, Apple considered Google far from perfect on issues of privacy. One slide referred to Android as "a massive tracking device" – no way, really? – while others point out how much better of a job Apple considered itself to be doing on privacy versus Google when it came to how the pair handle data from user accounts, maps, search, and ads. 

Remember that Apple offers an OS (iOS) and browser (Safari) that rivals Google's Android and Chrome, so it's not too surprising to see Cupertino slag off its Silicon Valley neighbor.

Included in Apple's slides is also an oft-quoted statement from then-Google CEO Eric Schmidt: in 2010, the chief exec told a Washington policy forum that "Google's policy is to get right up to the creepy line but not cross it."

The 2013-era slides describe, in typical modest fashion for Apple, its overall approach at the time to privacy. It's mainly things like trying to keep people's Siri and Maps usage separate from advertising, targeted or otherwise. Google - Apple claimed - did much the opposite and commingled all its user, services, and advertising data. 

Thing is, Apple talks about its love of privacy safeguards and how much it thinks Google is a fiend with people's data, but take a look at how it operates in reality. While it has been baking a decent amount of information security into its software and hardware – just see this Apple PDF – Cupertino can be accused of being two-faced.

As we've also learned during the trial, Apple was glad to take tens of billions of dollars annually to ensure Google stayed the default search engine in Safari, which raises questions about Apple's commitment to privacy that it leaned into hard in 2014.

Case in point, another exhibit made public by the DoJ this week consisting of an email chain from 2016 in which Google discussed [PDF] a request from Apple to make search data sharing reciprocal. 

"We met with Apple yesterday and they had a new request on the data set request section," Daniel Alegre, Google's then-president of global and strategic partnerships wrote.

"They want it to be reciprocal, meaning that they want to know which links on results were clicked on, or how long it took to satisfy the user's query on Google. Their rationale is that they wanted to improve the user experience with this information." 

Google declined to share the information with Apple, citing it as part of its "secret sauce." Another exhibit [PDF] reveals to what degree user experience was key to Google search - basically entirely. 

"A billion times a day, people ask us to find documents relevant to a query. What's crazy is that we don't actually understand documents," slide captions on the presentation state. "Beyond some basic stuff, we hardly look at documents. We look at people … grossly simplified, this is the source of Google's magic." 

While Google is the one on trial here, the documents released this week by the DoJ don't paint Apple in a positive light. 

While quoting Steve Jobs on Apple "tak[ing] privacy extremely seriously," the iGiant seems entirely willing to let Google do the heavy privacy-violating lifting for it while reaping billions of dollars. That Apple asked Google for reciprocal data sharing is even more suspicious - we tried to get some answers and haven't heard back. 

The Google antitrust trial is expected to wrap up sometime this month. ®

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