Last update: June 2021

5 mins to read - 2021/06/25

Apple and Mobile CRM: The Data Privacy Advantages of Processing Data On-Device

Across the full scope of the mobile device and IoT industry, data privacy is becoming more and more a driving concern. And Apple in particular is in the forefront of change when it comes to how device users’ personal data is being processed. With Apple’s recent changes to IDFA and their shift to on-device data processing, they are really putting their money where their mouth is when it comes to protecting their users’ data. But what is mobile CRM processing, and why is it more data-secure than conventional cloud processing? Is Apple really ushering in a brave new world of data privacy, or are they just spitting in the wind?

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What Is Mobile CRM?

A CRM (customer relationship management) system is a solution that manages customer data, both processing and tracking insights to optimize the relationship between apps and users. Traditionally, CRMs have been cloud-based. But a mobile CRM allows for this processing and data management to occur locally on-device, without sending it to a 3rd-party cloud server.

OpenBack has been using this method of data processing for sending mobile push notifications since 2015. This has resulted in a good deal of benefits in terms of reliable delivery, data security, metrics tracking, and much more. It has taken the rest of the mobile industry some time to catch up. However, Apple seems to be the first OS to get onboard with their shift from cloud computing to (partial) on-device data processing.

Apple and Its History of Data Privacy

No matter what Mark Zuckerberg says, Apple has always been a proponent of an ethical treatment of user data. Even in early interviews with Apple founder Steve Jobs, such as his 1981 Nightline interview, it’s clear he has a practically zealous faith in the potential computers have to amplify humanity’s ability for good. In fact, he refers to them as the “21st-century bicycle” in that they allow users to cross great distances (by which he means they perform basic mathematic or processing tasks, freeing up users for more creative and conceptual work) with little energy expended.

While Jobs’ optimism seems a little naive in hindsight, it is certainly genuine, and he sees personal computers as becoming a great equalizer for society. He responds to questions about the data privacy risk inherent in computers with:

“The process of the technological revolution that we’re all in, it’s a process of taking centralized things and making them very democratic… very individualized… I think the feeling of computer-literacy among the populace is the thing that, for me at least, gives me the most comfort that that centralized intelligence will have the least effect on our lives without us knowing it.”

Apple’s App Transparency Tracking

Looking back at Jobs’ words, it seems as though a consideration for user privacy and individual control over data was baked into the company ethos from the start. Fast-forward to the present day, when Apple is spearheading the push for devices to provide more privacy and transparency to users in terms of how their data is being used, and by which apps.

This was evident at the beginning of 2021, when Apple reformed the way apps are allowed to track their users’ IDFAs. An IDFA (Identifier for Advertisers) is a randomized number Apple assigns to each device, which advertisers can use to send personalized advertising. However, as of January 2021, Apple introduced a feature called App Transparency Tracking, where apps need to gain a user’s explicit permission to track their IDFA. (As opposed to automatically opting them in.) Mobile advertisers fear this change will result in slashing the number of users who enable personalized ads from the current 70% to 10-15%.

Crucially, Apple has its own ad network (SKAdNetwork). This has led to accusations from Facebook and Google that Apple is using data privacy as a stalking horse for its true intentions: of hobbling rival tech companies by cutting off a large portion of their advertising revenue at its source.

Apple’s New Data Privacy Push

And Apple’s just getting started. In their Worldwide Developer Conference 2021 (WWDC), Apple laid out the blueprints for a complete overhaul of how the iOS 15 will manage user data. In their push to strike the right balance between UX and privacy, Apple came up with the 4 Privacy Pillars, which will be rolled out for the iOS 15:

  • Data minimization (only take the data you need to make the feature work)
  • On-Device Processing (local processing of data)
  • Transparency/Control (obtain user consent before collecting data, and inform them what that data will be used towards)
  • Security protections (ensure data is protected in transit and at rest)

With regard to on-device processing, they seem to be making slow but steady progress:

“On-device processing is a fundamental building block to core features… the main benefit of on-device processing is that you can build amazing features using sensitive data, without sending it to your server.”

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For the iOS 15, the philosophy of mobile CRM or on-device processing is most visible in their updates to Siri, Apple’s personal assistant. Certain components of Siri have been moved on-device since the iOS 12, when the Apple Neural Engine was rolled out. As of the iOS 13, Siri’s responses to user questions have taken place entirely on-device. However, many users are still concerned about their own voice recordings being intercepted by a 3rd party. To appease these fears, Apple has moved all automatic speech recognition models for Siri to run entirely on-device. This means that audio files of your requests never leaves your iPhone. (An additional benefit is that Siri can respond to requests without a time lag – and you can even make requests offline.)

What’s more, developers can use Apple’s CreateML framework to train and personalize models directly on the device. This means you can customize models to each individual user, while keeping their PII safely on the device and in their possession.

What Does Mobile CRM Mean for the Future of the Mobile Industry?

Apple have always been innovators in the world of computers and mobile devices. Indeed, the first mobile push notification was sent through APNS, Apple’s cloud server, in 2009. And the fact that Apple recognizes the benefits of mobile CRM – both for data privacy as well as for fast, reliable processing – suggests that other devices and operating systems, such as Android, will soon follow suit.

The number of mobile devices on the planet is projected to reach more than 17 billion by 2024. And with the growth of the Internet of Things, with smart devices permeating every industry on the planet, the sheer scope of the data being generated is astronomical. Even from an objective viewer’s standpoint, continuing to process all this data in centralized servers is unsustainable. Mobile CRM is simply the more secure and effective method of handling sensitive data. And, along with OpenBack’s hybrid mobile edge computing SDK, Apple is taking the first steps into the future of data processing.

To learn more about OpenBack’s patented mobile engagement platform that leverages user data directly on the device, and our privacy mode that enables your app to be compliant by default with local data privacy regulations such as GDPR, COPPA, and HIPAA, get in touch with one of our experts.

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