Apple vs. Google vs. Microsoft: Is Your Data Safe

it’s near impossible to not have some data collection from using your devices. Most of this is not for nefarious purposes; companies gather data to figure out what features consumers are using most, to make their products easier to use, and to find out what went wrong when the system or an app crashes.

Still, once information is out in the open, there’s no getting it back. It’s worth taking the twenty or so minutes to find out just what you agreed to when you click “yes” when setting up a new device. We have researched the privacy policies of Apple, Google and Microsoft. All these companies have a desktop and smartphone operating system, a personal assistant, a cloud storage service and a map service.

The three companies have very different business models which may lead consumers to think one is more privacy conscious than another.

Apple’s business is selling the hardware it makes, it’s software is attractive to consumers, so they will buy into the hardware ecosystem.  They make development tools and have two apps stores, so developers can make apps that will attract customers.

Google’s model is to have you use their services such as Gmail, Android and Google Drive and more to collect information to make their ad network the best. At first, it may seem they would be more willing to gather as much data as possible but, Google’s actually the best when it comes to security and letting users decide what data gets collected. If users don’t trust Google with their data, and the ads that are presented aren’t relevant to what users do, Google would get less money.

Microsoft is most interested in licensing their operating system to manufacturers such as Dell, HP, and the likes. Microsoft does make their own hardware, the Surface line of 2-in-1’s, laptops and desktop, and used to make the Lumia line of smartphones. Microsoft also makes quite a bit of money on Office, which is why the Office suite is available on iOS, Android, and MacOS in addition to Windows.

Even though the companies have different business models, they collect mostly the same information and use it the same way. They all collect personal information such as name, email address and telephone number for use in their services and products. If you email someone from your iCloud, Gmail/Inbox or Outlook account, Apple, Google or Microsoft will know what address you sent that email to. All the companies protect your information by limiting access to it and providing physical security measures to their server facilities.

One big difference between the companies is how they treat your data.

 Apple’s site:

“At times Apple may make certain personal information available to strategic partners that work with Apple to provide products and services, or that help Apple market to customers.”

Google’s:

“We will share personal information with companies, organizations or individuals outside of Google when we have your consent to do so. We require opt-in consent for the sharing of any sensitive personal information.”

Microsoft’s:

“We share your personal data with your consent or as necessary to complete any transaction or provide any service you have requested or authorized. We also share data with Microsoft-controlled affiliates and subsidiaries; with vendors working on our behalf; when required by law or to respond to legal process; to protect our customers; to protect lives; to maintain the security of our services; and to protect the rights or property of Microsoft.”

Apple and Microsoft outright state they share your data with other companies, without explicitly asking permission. Google’s site states that they also share your data with other companies, but only if you consent to the sharing. In the case of all these companies, personal data refers to your name, email address, home address, location history, demographic data, your contacts, and more. Microsoft names some of the partners they share with (Yahoo, Newegg and more), but they state some of their partners aren’t listed. Apple does not list the partners they share data with.

So which company handles your data better?

All three companies spell out exactly what information is collected and what it is used for on their web pages, but we like Google’s presentation most for several reasons. First, it allows you to quickly download their entire privacy policy as a PDF for later reference offline. Next, they present the most information on a single page. The page also contains links to their security checkup feature, and quick links to delete your stored data and completely close your account.

Next best in our mind is Microsoft’s site. They give a general overview on each of their services, with a button available to click and expand each section. In their ad section, they explicitly name some of the companies they share your data with and why they share it. One key difference between how Google and Microsoft handle data is that when Google sells off part of their business that contains your data, they will notify you of this before the data is transferred to a purchasing company. Microsoft however, will just share the data without specifically notifying you.

Finally, we have Apple’s site. They also state their entire policy on a single page, with links to update your specific preferences, as well as links to relevant laws about data collection that govern their policies. However, Apple’s site as a whole uses the less secure HTTP protocol through their site, only using the more secure HTTPS when you are chatting with a customer support agent or entering your personal information.

For us, Google wins because their site is the easiest to understand, they will notify you if any of your data is going to be affected in a sale and provide easy methods for you to delete your data. Apple and Microsoft outright share your data with other companies, while Google doesn’t without your permission.