Apple promises customers a safer digital world — for a price

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For years, Apple has gone after the luxury market with its hardware products. Now, its latest luxury offering isn't a gold smartwatch or a nearly $1,500 iPho...

Posted: Mar 26, 2019 1:09 PM

For years, Apple has gone after the luxury market with its hardware products. Now, its latest luxury offering isn't a gold smartwatch or a nearly $1,500 iPhone, but a safer digital life.

At a high-profile media event on Monday, a procession of Apple executives and celebrities laid out a compelling vision for a safer digital world for consumers — one where privacy is paramount, real people review and recommend content, and families can enjoy the piece of mind that comes from knowing their children are watching age-appropriate videos in a protected environment.

"There has never been a moment quite like this one," Oprah Winfrey said on stage at the event. "We have this unique opportunity to rise to our best selves in how we use, and choose to use, both our technology and our humanity."

At a time when there seem to be constant headlines about things like Facebook data privacy scandals, livestreamed shootings on social platforms, and algorithms inadvertently helping pedophiles find videos of young children on YouTube, Apple is dangling the promise of better digital safeguards for customers and their families.

The only catch: rising above the hellscape that is today's internet experience will cost you.

Apple unveiled a series of potentially pricey subscription products and made safety a key part of its sales pitch for each. A premium version of Apple News, complete with hundreds of magazines, was debuted with the promise of "user privacy" and human editors artisanally curating articles for readers. An original video streaming service will emphasize inspiring and inclusive stories fit for the whole family. A new subscription gaming platform will launch without allowing any data collection.

The implicit message from Apple was clear: For those who can't or won't pay the extra monthly fees, there's always the wild west of YouTube recommendation algorithms run amok and bottomless data collection on platforms like Facebook and Google. For everyone else, there's Apple.

This was apparent from the first moments of Monday's event. In his introductory remarks about the company's approach to its growing slate of digital services, Apple CEO Tim Cook said: "They're designed to keep your personal information private and secure."

In some ways, this marked the culmination of a year of Cook and company taking digs at Facebook in the wake of its privacy scandals. The Apple CEO has called privacy "a human right," derided the targeted ads favored by Facebook and Google as "creepy" and called for stricter privacy laws. In the process, he effectively positioned Apple as safehaven for weary internet users.

Apple executives hammered away at that message on Monday. In a press release for the subscription gaming service, Phil Schiller, Apple's SVP of worldwide marketing, said: "Apple Arcade games will be great for families, respect user privacy and will not have ads or require any additional purchases."

The dream of digital safety for the whole family also proved to be a recurring theme. While showing off new features on the updated Apple TV app, director of program management Cindy Lin took time to marvel at the new kids' experience on the service. "Whether we want to learn something new, be inspired by other kids or just let our imaginations run wild, I love that we have a safe place to explore together," Lin said.

Even the original content Apple is investing in plays to this desire for family comfort. The celebrities who took the stage on Monday included safe picks like Reese Witherspoon, Steven Spielberg and, of course, Oprah. These were not edgy entertainers or profane comedians so much as family-friendly mainstays.

Anyone who's ever had their iPhone autocorrect a certain swear word to "ducking" should have known this day was coming. Apple has long focused on making sure its App Store and services are safe spaces, sometimes to the chagrin of users who just want to ducking vent once in awhile. Now it's once again betting the key to its future success is going for a safe experience.

The stakes are high for Apple. With sales of its core iPhone product line in decline, the company has increasingly tried to focus investors and the media on the moneymaking potential of its digital services, including Apple Pay, Apple Music and the App Store. The paid subscription products unveiled Monday may help Apple grow the business segment, which topped $10 billion in revenue in the final three months of last year.

The premium Apple News product will cost consumers $9.99 a month. Apple has yet to disclose prices for the other new paid subscription products.

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