This is how Steve Jobs talked about privacy more than ten years ago.

For years now, Apple puts the spotlight on the privacy of its products, be they devices or online services. This does not mean that the company is exempt from controversy. In fact, this year has seen one of the periods of greatest public scrutiny for its new child protection measures, which have now been delayed. However, it must be recognized that the Cupertino company has been among the first to give privacy a prominent place. And Steve Jobs has been largely responsible.

For a full sample of this we have to go back to the 2010 edition of the All Things Digital conference. In what was possibly one of his last major public interviews as CEO of Apple, Jobs talked about privacy and his company’s approach to it. The concepts of the then CEO of the Cupertino firm are really interesting, as they expose a fairly advanced position for the time.

Steve Jobs talking about privacy

Silicon Valley is not monolithic. We’ve always had a different take on privacy than our peers. We take privacy extremely seriously. For example, we worry a lot about location on phones; and we worry about a 14-year-old being stalked and something terrible happening because of our phone. So before apps access your location data – and we don’t make a rule that says they have to show a notice and ask, because we know they might not – they communicate with our location services, and we’re the ones who show the notice that says “this app wants to use your location data, do you agree?

We do a lot of things like that to make sure people understand what these apps are doing. […] We’ve rejected a lot of apps from the App Store that want to take a lot of your personal data and send it to the cloud. A lot of people in Silicon Valley think we’re old-fashioned, and maybe we are, but we’re concerned about this kind of thing.

Steve Jobs

A stance ahead of its time

What Steve Jobs said could be considered a standard response for any major company processing personal information of its users today, in the midst of 2021. That’s why it is important to note that he said it in a time when there was still no real collective awareness of what the collection of personal data entailed.

Take into account that, at the time, it was barely three years after the launch of the iPhone, and Android was even younger in the market. Clearly, smartphones as we know them today had not yet massified globally. Even the tablet market was in its infancy, with the first generation iPad appearing on the scene that year.

This meant that the primary interactions with the web were through a computer, and for many the concept of “privacy” simply involved having a good password email, on Facebook or on Twitter.

However, Steve Jobs and Apple agreed that there were many other aspects that were important to work on, especially as they began to offer more cloud-based services. Y achieving explicit consent of users was another of the concerns of the co-founder of the apple firm.

Privacy means letting people know what they’re signing up for, in clear words, and repeatedly. I’m an optimist and I think people are smart, and some people want to share more personal information than others. Ask them. Ask them every time. Make them tell you to stop asking them, if they’re tired of being asked. Let them know precisely what you’re going to do with their data. That’s what we think.

Steve Jobs

Founder of Apple

A bid for privacy, before there was talk of privacy.

As we said earlier, Apple has not been exempt from problems or controversies around privacy. What we raise here is not a question of being infallible, but of sticking to an ideal. Steve Jobs saw an added value in privacy at a time when no one was talking about it.

With rights and wrongs, those in Cupertino can say that they had a clearer and more forward-looking picture in direct comparison to the competition. When many began to pay attention to the use and abuse of users’ personal data after the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal, Apple had a significant head start in the area.

Ten years on from Steve Jobs’ death, Apple’s Apple have the peace of mind that they’ve tapped into the vision of their leading figure to make privacy a trademark.