Predictive Keyboards

Predictive Keyboards

Keyboard prediction means your texts are analyzed over time to create a customized, local “dictionary” of words/phrases/emojis that you’ve typed in multiple times. It then “scores” your vocabulary to get to know you, categorizing words by the probability you might need that word/phrase again. That seems helpful but in mid-2016, we begun to go “Hmmmph…” with the new emoji replacement feature.  The Verge’s Russell Brandom explains what’s going on:

The new emoji replacement feature will be driven in part by aggregate data from iPhones around the world. If lots of people start replacing the word “butt” with the peach emoji, you’ll begin to see that recommendation pop up in your messages. The same thing is true with the new version of predictive text. Apple has traditionally drawn from local messaging data, looking only at the texts YOU  write and the words YOU choose. But the new and improved predictive text will make smarter predictions based on more context, and draw on lots of aggregated data to do it.

Differential Privacy, Explained

This new form of patented aggregated data collection is called “differential privacy” – meaning yes, it collects data on you as an individualized user, but it encrypts your identity as the source – so it’s not as bad as we thought…

Apple explains it like this in their privacy policy:

Apple is using Differential Privacy technology to help discover the usage patterns of a large number of users without compromising individual privacy. To obscure an individual’s identity, Differential Privacy adds mathematical noise to a small sample of the individual’s usage pattern. As more people share the same pattern, general patterns begin to emerge, which can inform and enhance the user experience

The way differential privacy works to anonymize you is kind of interesting: First, they only use small samples on the population,  that texting is scrambled, and “noise” or nonsense is injected into your words before it ever leaves your device. Apple says it’s only using the differential privacy technique in four places currently: emoji replacement, determining slang vocabulary that becomes commonplace, the problematic Spotlight mac feature, and providing more accurate results for Lookup Hints in Notes.

How to Opt Out

If differential privacy is still rubbing you the wrong way as an iPhone user – we don’t blame you – there’s good news! You can opt out of being part of the sample population:

  1. Tap open “Settings” and then “Privacy”.
  2. On the Privacy screen, tap “Diagnostics & Usage”
  3. Lastly, on the Diagnostics & Usage screen, tap “Don’t Send”.

On your laptop:

  1. Open the System Preferences and click “Security & Privacy”.
  2. In the Security & Privacy preferences, click the “Privacy” tab, make certain “Send diagnostic & usage data to Apple” is unchecked. (You may need to enter your password.)

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