Apple, like most of the tech giants, collects a lot of data about you. Not as much as everybody else—since it’s not the single search engine you rely on for everything—but you can’t use Apple products and services without leaving some kind of digital footprint.
Thanks to all the craziness surrounding the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, Apple has made it a lot easier to get at this information since we last talked about this topic. Because I love knowing more about me, I went to Apple’s new(ish) Privacy Portal and requested a plate of everything in the company’s data buffet. Here’s how you can get your own copy of your data and what interesting tidbits you might find inside.
How to get a copy of your Apple data
This part’s easy. Visit Apple’s Data and Privacy page and authenticate into the site using your Apple ID. Look for the big “Get a copy of your data” section—you can’t miss it—and click on the “Request a copy of your data” link.
You’ll then be taken to a page where you’ll get to customize which data you want to receive. My advice? Click “Select all”. Why wouldn’t you want to see everything Apple has to offer?
Once you click the blue “Continue” button at the bottom, you’ll be asked to pick a maximum file size for any of the data archives Apple creates. If you’d rather download lots of smaller files instead of a few bigger files, adjust accordingly.
Click on the “Complete request” button to do just that, and get ready to wait. Unlike its peers, Apple takes its sweet time to create this data archive. I sent my request in on a Thursday evening, and I didn’t receive an email that my data download was ready until Tuesday afternoon. This is not the kind of thing you should expect to see a few hours after you request it.
What’s in your Apple data dump?
When Apple alerts you that you can now download your archive, the email will direct you to a website that looks a little something like this:
Rather than give you one big download link to grab everything—either packed within a single archive or split up by section—you have to click on the blue arrows to download each data chunk individually. It’s a little annoying, but there you go.
What’s inside Apple’s mystery box?
Don’t get too excited. There’s nothing juicy found within your “Apple ID account and device information” folder unless you’ve forgotten which Apple devices you own. (You likely haven’t forgotten that.)
You can see what you’ve purchased from Apple in the “Apple Online and Retail Stores” folder—for me, a record of digital purchases going all the way back to 2010. You don’t get told what they are in the general spreadsheet, however. You only see order numbers and transactions. You can view a total of all the credit you’ve accumulated on Apple’s digital storefront, as well as how much you’ve spent, and a subsequent series of folders breaks down your habits across Apple Music, apps and services, Apple Stores, and Testflight apps.
Within these folders, I found a giant spreadsheet detailing everything I had listened to on Apple Music, including when I streamed it. Though the spreadsheet is a little tricky to figure out—for example, Apple clogs up the listing by detailing all the tracks you’ve skipped past—it’s still fun to see what you’ve been up to. Add a few filters to pull out the extra data, then fire up a pivot table, and you’ll get a good sense of your musical tastes for any time period you want. When I did that, I wasn’t very surprised by my most-played tracks:
- Waving Through a Window (39) — the Dear Evan Hansen hit that everybody loves and is way too high for me to sing.
- You Will Be Found (34) — Second verse, same as the first
- Prologue (The Enchantress) (30) — I had the amazing opportunity to voice the prologue narration for a local theater company’s Beauty and the Beast last year, and I must have practiced quite a bit in the car.
- For Forever (26) — Everyone sure loves Dear Evan Hansen.
- Neverland (Original Broadway Cast Recording) (25) — I sang this as a solo in a cabaret show I put on in early 2017. Again, I do love practicing my songs in the car.
- The Bells of Notre Dame (24) — I do a lot of theater, what can I say. Also, this is one of the most fun musical prologues I think I’ve ever had a chance to sing.
- Finale (23) — From The Hunchback of Notre Dame, of course. Bring out the Kleenex.
- Hellfire (23) — Still one of my favorite audition songs (for certain shows, at least). One day I’ll have aged 30 years and I’ll get to play this role…
Look for the “Store Transaction History.csv” file to get a list of everything you’ve purchased from an Apple digital store, including iOS, tvOS, and macOS apps; in-app purchases; subscriptions; movies, books, or TV shows; et cetera. To avoid a knot in your stomach, resist the urge to sum up all the figures in Column I: “Invoice Item Total.”
The “Apps And Service Analytics.csv” spreadsheet gives you a detailed rundown of all the fun information Apple has been tracking within its own apps. For example, you’ll be able to see all the different times you entered or exited the “Updates” tab of the App Store or when you tapped or clicked on a different items within the App Store. It’s a ton of data that you probably don’t need to dig through, but it’s interesting to see what kind of data Apple collects within its own apps (and just how much it grabs).
You can also see all the reviews you’ve left for any digital items Apple serves up—apps, albums, et cetera. It’s fun to have this all in a single spreadsheet, in case you need a reminder of old apps or games you used to love, but have since forgotten about.
Elsewhere, in the AppleCare folder, you can view any and all repair requests you’ve made for less-than-functional Apple devices. In the Marketing Communications folder, two spreadsheets will show you all the advertising emails Apple has sent you (and whether you’ve opened these messages or clicked on anything within them).
Finally, the various iCloud folders in your Apple data dump give you much of the information you store via the service: browser bookmarks, calendars and reminders, your contacts (in vCard format), and your notes (as text files). When creating this giant data archive, you could have also elected to include your iCloud files and documents, email, and photos. I didn’t, just so the archive wasn’t huge, but it’s worth knowing that option exists.
How to give Apple less data to work with
When you use Apple’s hardware, software, and services, know that the company is going to do everything it can to learn more about your habits. You have a few options to limit what Apple collects, but you can’t turn off the firehose—sorry.
On your iOS device, pull up the Settings app and scroll down a bit until you see the Privacy option. Tap on that.
Scroll to the bottom of the Privacy screen, where you’ll find two additional options: Analytics and Advertising. Tap on Analytics and turn off that which you are uncomfortable providing to Apple—everything, if you’re feeling bold. In the Advertising section, you can elect to Limit Ad Tracking and reset your advertising identifier, so any data Apple has on you is less useful for serving you content it thinks you might find interesting.