Apple is planning on joining forces with Comcast to ensure smooth, fast connections as it expands its television streaming service. But while talks between the two companies are largely preliminary, a marriage between the two billion-dollar companies could mean more data privacy and security problems for customers.
Apple’s main objective is to stream live and on-demand TV content customers can access through a “cloud.” Teaming up with Comcast — the nation’s largest cable TV and Internet provider — gives Apple it’s own private Internet access to customers to prevent buffering problems that come with using the existing pathways as everyone else. Instead of streaming services with public Internet traffic, Comcast would build and transmit Apple’s traffic through a separate pipeline for the “last mile,” a stretch of cables that connect to customers’ homes.
While the tech company’s deal, if it materializes, would give customers yet another option to watch TV on their terms, it also raises several privacy and security concerns. One of the biggest kinks threatening a finalized agreement is which company gets to own the customer data. Apple wants Comcast’s customers to use their login IDs to access streaming, while Comcast would rather keep control of customers data, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Both Comcast and Apple have struggled to protect customers’ personal information safe. Last month, 34 of Comcast’s servers were hacked through an unpatched vulnerability, exposing much of its 50 million customers’ usernames, passwords and other personal data. Comcast kept the breach quiet and didn’t publicly address the issue or alert customers until after the hackers took down a post with stolen passwords. That sort of breach could get worse if Comcast’s deal with Time Warner goes through, adding another 28 million customers.
Apple’s history with privacy issues runs the gamut from security flaws in its mobile operating system to reading customers’ emails. The company has had several bouts with keeping data safe in mobile apps, including unauthorized access to contacts. In 2011, Apple had to fend off reports that it collected users’ GPS data — without giving customers a way to opt-out — and stored it indefinitely.
A partnership between the two companies means that, regardless of which login is used, both companies would have access to customer data. That means Comcast’s customers with Apple TV devices are subject to any potential hacks or security vulnerabilities on Apple’s servers unless both companies take strict precautions to prevent them. And depending on how intertwined that dual access is, Comcast customers who don’t have Apple TV could have their data stolen through security flaws in Apple’s systems.
Apple can be “clumsy with security issues,” Wired reporter Brian Chen told Bloomberg. “We have to take a giant leap of faith when it comes to trusting for profit companies that make billions of dollars,” he said. The company also keeps data from Siri’s voice-commanded messages and Internet searches.
News of Apple’s talks with the cable giant comes on the heels of Netflix’s deal, which caused a stir over fair and equal Internet access. Netflix agreed to pay Comcast to make sure customers could have uninterrupted access to video-streaming. The move signified the start of a precedent that content providers, and subsequently customers, would have to start paying Internet companies for reliable high-speed access — something that was prohibited under net neutrality rules. Apple’s proposed deal differs in that it’s asking Comcast for its own hardwire connection to customers rather than for faster access over other online services.