Apple’s Data Access Limits on its Vision Pro Are Good for Privacy – and Also Good for Its Business

April 18, 2024

Since its rollout of the Vision Pro headset in February, Apple has offered greater clarity on how it will safeguard users’ personal data. According to developer interviews, the company has opted to prevent third-party app developers from accessing the headset’s cameras and sensors. In doing so, Apple has signaled that it is willing to sacrifice immediate growth in the Vision Pro app market for the sake of user privacy. But this restriction likely serves another (familiar) purpose: cementing Apple’s dominance in its own mixed reality ecosystem.

Branded by Apple as a “revolutionary spatial computer,” the Vision Pro is a mixed-reality headset that blends digital content with the physical world in 3D immersive fashion, similar to Meta’s lower-priced Quest headset. One of Apple’s selling points for the Vision Pro has been the protection of users’ privacy— in particular, Apple’s promise that it will not collect or share information about users’ eye movements.

Headsets offering 3D immersive experiences track users’ eye movements in order to function. But eye tracking poses serious threats to individual privacy, as eye-movement data, when aggregated, can reveal deeply sensitive information such as health conditions, mental states, behavioral tendencies, and even sexual preferences. The extraordinarily invasive nature of eye-gaze data prompted Apple to design the Vision Pro so that eye tracking is processed locally on users’ devices, rather than on company servers. This feature sets the Vision Pro apart from other extended reality (or “XR”) headsets on the market, including Meta’s, which can collect users’ eye-gaze data for the purposes of targeted advertisement.

But questions remained about Apple’s ability to safeguard other bodily data collected by headset sensors, which can also reveal highly sensitive information about a user, such as their demographics and physical conditions.

The news that Apple is choosing to protect users’ bodily data and physical surroundings by limiting third-party developer access to sensors therefore offers welcome relief to those who have worried about the Vision Pro’s leaking of (non-eye gaze related) bodily data to third parties. However, Apple’s commitment to preserving user privacy should be examined closely. Notably, according to The Information, Apple’s restrictions on developer access to customer cameras do not apply to its own apps. If true, this means that Apple has made a very smart business move: It is helping itself get a head start in dominating the Vision Pro app market while being able to obscure this potential antitrust red flag by appealing to the compelling interest in user privacy.


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