James Cridland

What does Apple know about me?

After learning what Twitter knows about me and what Spotify knows about me, I discovered that I could request all my data from Apple.

I’ve had an Apple ID since about 2003, having an iPod. I have used an Apple Mac since 2004 or so. I own an iPhone (which I don’t use for making calls) and an iPad. I don’t use Apple Music, nor Apple Pay.

So — what does Apple know about me? I requested my data on Dec 23 at 22:37 local time, and it was sent to me on Dec 28 20:45.

First, and nicely, Apple gives a handy guide to what all these files are at https://privacy.apple.com/file-guides

Apple ID Account Information, containing changes to my Apple ID details since 2017 (mostly emails and phone numbers). Curiously, these are partially redacted. It also contains Device Information (serial numbers and things); and SignOn information (when I last signed in to some of their services — podcasting isn’t there).

Apple Media Services information, containing

  • what tracks I’ve played on Apple Music. The first track I played was at 12pm on 2 July 2015 (Alabama Shakes — Don’t Wanna Fight); and I listened to Beats 1 at 2pm on 18 July 2015. I did both of these things from the UK.
  • What type of notifications I’ve received on iOS. Since my devices are normally on focus mode, there aren’t very many in here: and the only thing I know is that my most recent ones were “Marketing”.
  • “Welcome pages”, which serve as a record that I’ve allowed Apple Podcasts, for example, to track my listening. It’s marked “GDPR”, and I first did it on 2 Oct 2018, and last did it on 23 Sep 2021.
  • Billing information history — my first purchase was on 18 June 2004. It lists the address I lived at then, and what type of card I was using (no price).
  • Computer authorisations — I’ve had at least 10 different devices with Apple (starting with something on 18 June 2004, then something else on 16 Sep 2004). The early ones don’t tell me what they are. I don’t see any of my recent devices, like the computer I’m writing this on, listed.
  • The first (free) app I downloaded, on 10 Nov 2008, was a “Virtual Zippo® Lighter”, but quickly followed-up by a to-do list (Remember The Milk) and the Capital FM app on 26 Nov 2008.
  • The first paid-for thing I downloaded, on 18 June 2004, was Monty Python’s The Galaxy Song; then a Bill Bryson audiobook, “I’m a Stranger Here Myself (Abridged Nonfiction)”. It doesn’t tell me how much I paid. There’s some movie purchases in here too; a purchase of an OSX upgrade, too. Oddly, it says I bought “I’m a Stranger Here Myself (Abridged Nonfiction)” again in 2020 (I didn’t, but I wonder if it’s because it was replaced with an edited version?)
  • Finally in this folder, slightly incongruously, full details of U2’s Songs of Innocence album, which Tim Apple put on my iPod.

Podcasts Playstate

This is within the Apple Media Services “Stores Activity” information, and is fascinating since it lists podcasts that have been played on my device. Here’s what Apple says it is. I don’t use Apple Podcasts normally to listen to podcasts, so there’s not much data here: this appears to be downloads that have never been played (the ones without “Yes” in “has been played”), and ones that I have played and for how long. I’d love to see this kind of data for people who use Apple Podcasts as their daily podcast app.

The folder also includes “Your Podcasts”, a list of all the shows you listen to apparently (referred to by RSS URL).

Other things in the Media Services massive great folder include:

  • everything I’ve clicked on in the App Store (literally: buttons, tabs, everything) since 3 Jan 2021 to now. That’s 6,635 clicks.
  • every review I’ve ever made. The first was 30 June 2006, for a podcast; I haven’t written a single review on Apple since 17 July 2016, when I wrote a poor review for the Gmail app.
  • every time an app has updated itself on my phone/tablet, back to about 2013. Spotify has updated 318 times since 2016.

Apple.com and Apple Store has receipts for a few things I’ve bought online.

AppleCare contains every time I’ve gone into an Apple Store (“swollen battery”), but also every time I’ve contacted Apple Podcasts support with a query.

Marketing Communications contains, slightly unintuitively, some of the oldest registration data for my Apple hardware. I got an iPhone on 20 Dec 2007 (the iPhone Silver 8 GB), and another on 11 Jul 2008 (the iPhone 3G Black 8 GB). It also contains, as you’d expect, the title of every single email sent to me as an Apple customer (lots of “Podcast Providers” emails). Separately, a list of every one of those emails I actually clicked on.

This is all fascinating data: but also fascinating in what it doesn’t list.

I can’t find any existence of my white MacBook, bought in May 2004 (in the San Francisco Apple store). I can’t also see my iPod Shuffle, that little plastic USB key thing that Apple made (with the really sharp edges).

I also don’t see very many IP addresses listed. There’s a “last heartbeat” IP address from each of my recent devices, showing when it was last connected to the internet, but not much else. Is Apple really not keeping a list of the IP addresses I’ve used to connect? Perhaps they don’t need it, given that my device, with its serial number, is attached to most events. Why is my telephone number redacted, though, when Apple knows the number in full: and if they’re redacting that, what else are they redacting?

The cynical would say: “is this all the data you have on me, Apple?”

The less-jaded would, perhaps, point to a company that is seemingly doing privacy rather better than the others I’ve looked at so far.