The Stack Archive

Apple’s privacy policies repel the data scientists it needs to create ‘predictive’ smartphones

Mon 7 Sep 2015

Just for once, it seems that Apple ‘can’t get the staff’. According to a Reuters exclusive, the Cupertino-based global device giant is falling behind in the race to create ‘predictive’ services for smartphones because its privacy policies are too protective of the end-user.

The report has crunched numbers on Apple job openings and talked to various industry insiders, many of whom agree that Apple lacks the best conditions to attract the very limited supply of data scientists necessary to leverage cloud-based services and anticipate the most minute demands of smartphone users.

The reason for the company’s difficulty in challenging the likes of Google, Facebook and Amazon for the brightest and the best new minds in data science and analysis seems to lie with its commitment to protect the privacy of its users. The report notes that data retention policies on user-centric information gathered into its Siri ‘personal assistant’ product is a reasonably generous six months, whilst information retained from the user’s exploration of Apple Maps expires after only 15 minutes.

As a consequence Apple’s smartphones attempt to crunch a great deal of user-data locally rather than in the cloud. Despite the high specs of iPhones and other Apple devices relative to the market average, this inevitably means not only a certain amount of local CPU drain but also a circumscribed access to all the possible data that the user may have generated.

The case with Apple Maps’ limited data retention is fairly telling, since this is precisely the kind of information that is likely to turn up in a suggestion-stream with rival services such as Microsoft’s Cortana virtual assistant or Google’s ‘Google Now’ service – both far more enticing employers for data-hungry scientists and analysts, according to the Reuters report, due to the longer duration of available user-data for analysis.

However University of Washington professor and CEO of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence Oren Etzioni claims that Apple is determined to make up the shortfall, a fact that the piece contends is demonstrated by its recent spate of ads for data scientists and analysts: “In the past,” says Prof. Etzioni “Apple has not been at the vanguard of machine learning and cutting edge artificial intelligence work, but that is rapidly changing. They are after the best and the brightest, just like everybody else.”


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