Ten years ago, researchers at Microsoft introduced a breakthrough approach to protecting privacy in the age of big data. Later this yeartheir idea, known as differential privacy, will get its highest profile tryout yet—thanks to Apple.
Differential privacy provides a way to mathematically guarantee that statistics about a pool of data collected from many people can’t be used to reveal much about the contribution of any one individual. Apple has built it into the new version of its mobile operating system, iOS, for iPhones and iPads to be released this fall.
On a quarterly investor call last week, Apple CEO Tim Cook boasted that the technology would let his company “deliver the kinds of services we dream of without compromising on individual privacy.” Apple will initially use the technique to track trends in what people type and tap on their phones to improve its predictive keyboard and Spotlight search tool, without learning what exactly any individual typed or clicked.