The Schrödinger of Data Protection
Ashley Gjøvik exposes Apple Inc
Excerpt of article written by & originally published by Thomas Le Bonniec on Mediapart as, Le Schrödinger de la protection des données : quand Ashley Gjøvik dénonce Apple, in French language, on March 14 2023. Translated to English by Thomas Le Bonniec on May 4 2023.
The Schrödinger of Data Protection: Ashley Gjøvik exposes Apple Inc
The profile of Ashley Gjovik in Télérama (15/03) is a reminder of Apple's responsibility in the world of digital surveillance we live within. Photos, recordings, biometric data...
With her testimony, and mine, this article is a reminder that Apple coerces its employees, and manipulates its users, to extract the maximum of information - transformed into data and used for opaque purposes.
In this week's Télérama (18/03/23), Olivier Tesquet wrote a profile dedicated to Ashley Gjøvik. I won't paraphrase it, because it's not my intention, but here is three points I think you need to know about it.
Ashley’s been fighting Apple since her wrongful suspension in 2021. The story of her revolt began when she denounced the presence of toxic waste under the Apple office where she worked in California. Harassed, mistreated, and eventually fired - she decided to fight back, publicly, against Apple.
In her interview with Télérama, she said three very interesting things. First, that Apple considers the bodies of its employees to belong to the company. Ashley and her colleagues are pressured, even coerced, to participate in programs that photograph them at all times (ie, Gobbler), scan their ears, or even monitor their menstrual cycles.
She also states that Apple has an internal repressive apparatus composed of former American police and spooks, specialists in "counter-insurgency" and law enforcement.
Finally, she shares that the American labor regulatory authorities agreed with her when she denounced the abusive policies of her former employer - which harassed her and endangered her health.
"Respect for privacy, that's the iPhone"
It is with this slogan that Apple has been advertising in Europe for several years now. It is also with these words that Olivier Tesquet opens his article.
I have been waging a similar battle as Ashley since 2019. That year, I left GlobeTech, an Apple subcontractor in Ireland, that employed me to listen to recordings taken from Siri (Apple's voice assistant). I then decided to bear witness to that story. I was not the only one, nor the first, but at that point I had not seen anyone else come out of anonymity to tell this story.
Olivier wrote an article about it in March 2021. He makes a very accurate parallel between this job of "little ears" for a multinational, and that of an analyst for an intelligence agency.
For my part, I listened to at least 46,000 recordings in only two months. With the screenshots I took before leaving, I was able to demonstrate that there was a massive and pervasive practice by Apple of recording people and their surroundings without their knowledge or consent.
In my opinion, it amounts to one of the most serious violations of the right to data protection (as defined by GDPR) - not to mention implicating a whole host of other national and European laws. We are talking about volumes in the hundreds of millions of records - maybe more.
The profile of Ashley's story highlights Apple's internal abuses, their culture of opacity, and their claim to be above the law - any law.
The first paradox I would like to raise is visible when we put side-by-side two contradictory sentences coming from Apple: the first one is their motto, quoted earlier: "Privacy is the iPhone".
The second is from a document released by Ashley, a corporate policy published by Apple, which tells the employees, "You should have no expectation of privacy when using your or someone else's personal devices for business purposes ... or when you are on Apple premises.”
Under this policy - what about iPhone users who have a relative working at Apple? This is a contradiction in pure logical terms: it's either one (Apple protects your privacy) or the other (Apple makes its own rules internally and doesn't care about privacy). But Apple says both things at the same time.
….Again, it's either all one or all the other. There is no in-between. Either Siri captures recordings that are anonymized or they are not anonymized. Apple says both things at the same time. These "paradoxes" are just a tiny glimpse of all the questions raised by Ashley's testimony and mine.
Is domination between states the only prospect for data policies?
I would like to conclude by saying two things.
The first is that the report I made to the European data protection authorities was three years ago. The investigation is stalling, and this is certainly because of the DPC (Data Protection Commissioner), the Irish administrative authority, which has a stranglehold on the case, and is protecting Apple. I have written two long articles about this.
The second is that we haven't even scratched the surface of the subject of surveillance by Apple and the digital giants….
….In short, although this topic is far from being exhausted - it is distressing to note the lack of interest of governments, institutions, and politicians in the protection of fundamental rights in the digital world. We cannot continue to rely simply on the individual efforts of "whistleblowers”.
Bravo to Ashley. Let's hope her story gets more traction than mine, and that it raises awareness among iPhone users. Customers may begin considering the need to hold Apple, and the authorities in charge of defending their rights, accountable.
In the meantime, turn off your voice assistants and change your privacy settings.
One last thing: I'm attending this year's Mozfest, the Mozilla Firefox online festival, which runs from March 20-24 2023. The session I'll be hosting is in English and will be on Friday the 24th at 7pm Paris time. It is titled "Is my phone listening to me and other political questions around privacy".
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Olivier Tesquet, Ashley Gjøvik, lanceuse d’alerte licenciée par Apple, seule contre tous, Télérama (March 14 2023)
Thomas Le Bonniec, Apple, L'irlande et L'Europe : L’impôt, la Donnée et le Traund, Élucid (November 14 2022)
Thomas Le Bonniec, UE, Évasion Fiscale et Fuite de Données : L’impôt, la Donnée et le Truand, Élucid (November 22 2022)
Mozilla, MozFest 2023: Activism, Whistleblowers, and the Collective Power of People (March 8 2023)