With Apple making very clear how strongly it feels about the privacy of customer data through the FBI case, it’s no surprise that the issue is a hot-button within the company. A Reuters piece shows just how serious Apple is when it comes to guarding personal data.

Any collection of Apple customer data requires sign-off from a committee of three “privacy czars” and a top executive, according to four former employees who worked on a variety of products that went through privacy vetting […] The trio of experts […] are both admired and feared.

One former employee said that debates over whether or not customer data can be used to improve a service usually take at least a month to settle, and some privacy issues are debated for more than a year before a final decision is reached. Key privacy issues are escalated all the way to Tim Cook.

It was a refusal to compromise on privacy that killed one of Apple’s products, says the piece, while others needed to be substantially reworked to achieve privacy sign-off …

The team running Apple’s in-house advertising platform, iAd, wanted to make available to advertisers data on the profiles of customers who had viewed the ads. The request was refused, and it was likely this decision that led to Apple closing its iAd App Network completely earlier this year.

The iAd team fought hard to give advertisers greater visibility into who saw their ads, those employees said. Their hope was to create anonymous identifiers so advertisers could discern which users had seen their ads.

But despite about a dozen similar pitches, the most executives would allow was a count of how many users had seen an advertisement, according to the former employees.

“It was so watered down, it wasn’t even useful,” one of the former employees said.

Siri, too, required major work to address privacy concerns.

Privacy leaders insisted that voice data on what users say to Siri should be stored separately from personally identifiable information, according to a former Apple employee who attended some of the meetings.

“That was a major back-end surgery,” the former employee said.

Reuters provides brief profiles of the three privacy czars.

Jane Horvath, a lawyer who previously served as global privacy counsel at Google, is the group’s legal and policy wonk, often channeling the views of Apple’s board and citing regulatory requirements, said former employees who have worked with her. She was hired to formalize privacy practices after the 2011 “locationgate” scandal, in which iPhones were found to be gathering information about users’ whereabouts.

Horvath works alongside Guy “Bud” Tribble, a member of the original Macintosh team who is venerated by employees as one of the few who “had been to the mountain with Moses,” as one former employee put it, referring to Tribble’s ties to the late Steve Jobs.

The third czar, a rising star named Erik Neuenschwander, scrutinizes engineers’ work to ensure they are following through on the agreements – even reviewing lines of code.

The FBI accused Apple of using privacy concerns purely as a marketing tactic; this pieces clearly illustrates that it is anything but.

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Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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