Apple's Privacy Officer Jane Horvath Uses CES Appearance to Defend Company Stance on Encryption and Software Backdoors

Apple's chief privacy officer attended a discussion panel at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Tuesday to debate the state of consumer privacy, marking the first time in 28 years that Apple has been at CES in an official capacity.

Apple's privacy officer at CES 2020 panel (Image: Parker Ortolani)

Jane Horvath, Apple's senior director for global privacy, joined an all-female panel consisting of representatives from Facebook, Procter & Gamble and the Federal Trade Commission. During the discussion, Horvath defended Apple's use of encryption to protect customer data on mobile devices.

"Our phones are relatively small and they get lost and stolen," Horvath said. "If we're going to be able to rely on our health data and finance data on our devices, we need to make sure that if you misplace that device, you're not losing your sensitive data."

Apple has held a consistent position regarding its use of encryption, even if that means it has limited ability to help law enforcement access data on devices involved in criminal investigations.

Just this week, the FBI asked Apple to help unlock two iPhones that investigators believe were owned by Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, who carried out a mass shooting at a Naval Air Station in Florida last month. Apple said that it had already given the FBI all of the data in its possession.

Apple's response suggests it will maintain the same stance it took in 2016, when the FBI demanded that Apple provide a so-called "backdoor" into iPhones, following the December 2015 shooter incidents in San Bernardino. Apple refused, and the FBI eventually backed down after it found an alternate way to access the data on the iPhone.

Horvath took the same tack by saying that Apple has a team working around the clock to respond to requests from law enforcement, but that building backdoors into software to give law enforcement access to private data is something she doesn't support.

"Building backdoors into encryption is not the way we are going to solve those issues," Horvath said.

Horvath went on to talk up Apple's "privacy by design" technologies like differential privacy, user randomization in native apps and services, the on-device facial recognition in the Photos app, and minimal data retrieval for Siri. Horvath also confirmed that Apple scans for child sexual abuse content uploaded to iCloud. "We are utilizing some technologies to help screen for child sexual abuse material," she said.

Horvath became Apple's chief privacy officer in September 2011. Prior to her work at Apple, Horvath was global privacy counsel at Google and chief privacy counsel at the Department of Justice.

Note: Due to the political nature of the discussion regarding this topic, the discussion thread is located in our Political News forum. All forum members and site visitors are welcome to read and follow the thread, but posting is limited to forum members with at least 100 posts.

Top Rated Comments

(View all)
Avatar
9 months ago
To every politician who "demands" a backdoor into electronic devices, I want to know who will go to jail when (not if) that backdoor is hacked by a criminal or misused by a government. I really don't care how "noble" your intentions are, if backdoors are built into electronic devices they WILL be abused and misused and if history teaches us anything, it is that NOBODY will be held responsible for the damage caused. To paraphrase PJ O'Rourke, installing a backdoor for the government is "like giving whiskey and car keys to a teenage boy, no matter how much they beg, no matter how much they promise they will be careful, don't do it."
Score: 27 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
9 months ago
In spite of some frustrations with the Apple ecosystem, their privacy positions are why I will never go anywhere else for the foreseeable future. Privacy is one of the defining issues of our time, and all of Apple’s other other good stuff is gravy.
Score: 22 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
9 months ago
Having a secure phone is very important imo.

But, as has been said before, if you really care about privacy, quit sharing every damn stupid detail of your life on facebook etc.

People want all sorts of attention these days, as long as it's good.
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
9 months ago
Nice to see. The Government (investigative / hacking side) consistently tries to use cherry picked cases to get their back door's put into our smartphones. As we have seen previously with NSA zero day details (unofficial back doors), these have gotten leaked or hacked and put in the wild....there is no secure back door.
Score: 5 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
9 months ago


Curious how Apple's "stance" doesn't apply in other countries like China. I guess it's not profitable to use privacy protection as a marketing tool there like it is here in the USA.

As expected. Apple has to follow the laws of the country they sell into. China has no privacy laws, no child protection laws, etc. If Apple is going to be allowed to sell into China they need to follow China's laws. Period.

Just don't corrupt the devices to be sold into the US so the the same device is sold in both countries.

Now if China's laws are not what they should be, then the people of China need to rise up and change them. It is not the responsibility of American's to attempt to change China's or any other country's laws.
Score: 5 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
9 months ago


Protecting our privacy at the cost of innovation


I'm VERY worried Apple is slowly going to become like BlackBerry did/has in terms of privacy and security, as they clinged onto that mythos so much innovation and progression to better products/services crawled to a halt!

Complaining that Apple doesn’t innovate is getting as worn around here as emoji and it-wrong jokes. Someone needs to explain to me how Apple is glaringly behind other smartphone manufacturers. And don’t bother with microSD or bezels; if that’s how y’all define innovation, and not A-series SOCs, W/H BT chips, FaceID, iPhone 11 Pro camera system (all with glowing reviews by impartial experts), etc. etc. etc., then I suggest you raise your bar. In this age, Apple’s privacy posture alone has been innovative. Want bending displays instead? LMAO!
Score: 5 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

iOS 14 Widgets Offer iPhone Users Creative Home Screen Ideas

Sunday September 20, 2020 8:43 pm PDT by
Updated on September 22nd with hands on video. In iOS 14, Apple introduced ‌the concept of Home Screen‌ widgets, which provide information from apps at a glance. Widgets can be pinned to the Home Screen in various spots and sizes, allowing for many different layouts. Despite the relative lack of...

iPhone 12 Lineup Rumored to Be Named 'iPhone 12 mini,' 'iPhone 12,' 'iPhone 12 Pro,' and 'iPhone 12 Pro Max'

Monday September 21, 2020 5:24 am PDT by
Leaker known as "L0vetodream" has today shared the alleged naming for the upcoming iPhone 12 lineup on Twitter. The tweet proposes that the upcoming iPhone 12 models will be titled "iPhone 12 mini," "iPhone 12," "iPhone 12 Pro," and "iPhone 12 Pro Max." The names likely correspond to the three expected sizes of iPhone 12, with the 5.4-inch model being the iPhone 12 mini, the 6.7-inch model ...

PSA: New Apple Watch Owners Have to Return Entire Device for Ill-Fitting Solo Loop or Braided Solo Loop

Monday September 21, 2020 3:26 pm PDT by
With the Apple Watch Series 6, Apple introduced two new band options, the Solo Loop and the Braided Solo Loop. These new bands are unique because they have no clasps, buckles, or other fasteners, and instead use a stretch design to allow them to pull onto the wrist over the hand. Because these bands are not adjustable, Apple sells each one in nine different sizes to make sure each person...

Hands-On With iOS 14 Widgets, Custom Icons, and Home Screen Setup

Tuesday September 22, 2020 3:25 pm PDT by
Apple with iOS 14 introduced widgets on the Home Screen, leading to unprecedented levels of customization for the iPhone. Combined with Shortcuts that let you change an app's icon, iOS 14 lets you create a whole new look for your Home Screen. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. We've been following along with some of the creative alternative Home Screen designs that M...

Apple Releases First Public Betas of iOS 14.2 and iPadOS 14.2 With New Shazam Control Center Options

Monday September 21, 2020 10:34 am PDT by
Apple today seeded the first public betas of upcoming iOS 14.2 and iPadOS 14.2 updates to its public beta testing group, a few days after seeding the first betas to developers and a little less than a week after releasing the iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 updates. Public beta testers who have signed up for Apple's beta testing program can download the iOS and iPadOS‌ 14.2 updates over the air after ...

Microsoft Announces Outlook for Mac Redesign, Improvements to iOS and watchOS Apps

Tuesday September 22, 2020 8:56 am PDT by
Microsoft has today announced plans to bring a new design to its Outlook for Mac app along with several other improvements and features for Outlook on iOS and watchOS. In preparation for the public release of macOS Big Sur, Microsoft has been testing a new design for Outlook on Mac. The design includes Microsoft's Fluent icons and several design cues from Big Sur such as rounded corners....

Kuo: Apple to Accelerate Adoption of Mini-LED Displays in iPad and Mac Notebook Lineups

Sunday September 20, 2020 10:00 pm PDT by
Increased competition among Apple's suppliers for mini-LED display chips will accelerate the company's adoption of the advanced technology in its iPad and MacBook lineups, according to a new research note from analyst Ming-Chi Kuo seen by MacRumors. Kuo says that while Epistar had been predicted to be the exclusive supplier of mini-LED chips for Apple products in 2021, Sanan Optoelectronics...

Interest in iOS 14 Home Screen Ideas Helps Pinterest Break Daily Download Record

Wednesday September 23, 2020 4:37 am PDT by
Apple's introduction of widgets on the Home Screen in iOS 14 has driven a surge in interest among users looking to customize their iPhone, and that has reportedly had a knock-on effect for Pinterest, whose iOS app has seen record downloads as users flock to its content seeking design inspiration. As reported by TechCrunch, App Store intelligence firm Apptopia was first to note the impact of ...

Apple Releases Eighth Beta of macOS Big Sur to Developers [Update: Public Beta Now Available]

Tuesday September 22, 2020 10:08 am PDT by
Apple today seeded the eighth beta of an upcoming macOS Big Sur update to developers for testing purposes, close to a week after releasing the sixth beta and more than two months after the new update was unveiled at the Worldwide Developers Conference. The macOS Big Sur beta can be downloaded through the Apple Developer Center and once the appropriate profile is installed, subsequent betas...

AT&T Already Working on 6G, Says 5G iPhones Might Not Be 'Massive Event' Due to Economic Uncertainty

Monday September 21, 2020 10:05 am PDT by
Apple's upcoming launch of 5G iPhones might not be a "massive event" due to economic uncertainty amid the global health crisis, AT&T Communications CEO Jeff McElfresh said in a paywalled interview published by CNBC. "I do believe that you will see many of the iPhone subscribers move to upgrade to the device," said McElfresh. "But I wouldn't forecast that it's going to be a massive event. I...