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Roger McNamee: Apple is designed to protect your privacy, ‘but there is a cost’

Ethan Wolff-Mann
Senior Writer

When it comes to privacy, the differences between Apple (AAPL) and its tech competitors are stark, according to influential tech investor and thinker Roger McNamee. 

“I don't want to sit there and say to you, everything Apple does is great,” McNamee said on Yahoo Finance. “But in privacy, everything Apple does is great relative to everybody else — and the gap is so big now.”

But Apple’s good marks on consumer privacy does come at a cost.

McNamee has been called a sounding board for tech trends and ideas and has maintained close connections with leaders of many of the industry’s titans, like Apple, Microsoft (MSFT), and Facebook (FB). He said he recently got an Apple Card and that it’s akin to paying with cash when you pair it with Apple Pay — a huge difference compared to the credit card market that captures your data. 

Similarly, Apple Maps doesn’t save your routes and its facial recognition software doesn’t keep your photos and doesn’t transmit them anywhere. 

But McNamee pointed out that all of this in Apple’s hands is very different than Google, for example. For Apple, designing products to protect your privacy has tradeoffs.

There’s a cost in terms of usability. Not having all the data saved and auto-filled means the user experience isn’t quite as smooth as with an omniscient Google that knows your schedule, what you search, and everything about you. (For instance, when you search in Google for the address of a restaurant you’re going to, the results can pull up your Google Calendar reservation for that restaurant. In other words, Google apps speak to each other.)

Apple CEO Tim Cook has been far more privacy focused than the other big tech CEOs. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

There’s also a large monetary cost.

“What most people don’t realize is that Google knowing literally everything about you means that your search results are tuned. Not just what they know about you, but to their ad inventory,” he said. All of that serves their ability to tailor ads and behavioral predictions that are sold.

“We view Google and Facebook as honest brokers when we’re looking at the news feeds or search results — or even Amazon,” he said. “And I got news for everybody: that is definitely not true.”

McNamee went even further, saying that users don’t realize they are being harmed by these companies.

“What we don’t perceive is that our choices are being narrowed and that every time they’re using AI, they’re driving us to the point where at some point, in the future, we’ll all be wearing exactly the same clothes, we’ll all be using the same form of transportation, eating the same food, because in their mind, the most important value on earth is efficiency,” he said.

At least for now, in McNamee’s view, Apple doesn’t think this way — and it’s good for your privacy.

Currently, McNamee holds Apple stock, Amazon stock, and a little Facebook stock (he says he’s sold most of it.)

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Ethan Wolff-Mann is a writer at Yahoo Finance focusing on consumer issues, personal finance, retail, airlines, and more. Follow him on Twitter @ewolffmann.

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