Apple says that pictures, contacts and messages on new iPhones won’t be turned over to the government, even with a warrant.
The move is a major step meant to reassure people that their privacy is safe on Apple devices.
That’s an especially important message for Apple after digital thieves stole hundreds of nude and intimate photos of celebrities earlier this year. The launch of its new Apple Watch and payment system, Apple Pay, have also stirred conversations about how the company protects people's data.
Tech companies as a whole have taken a major hit after leaks from Edward Snowden showed that the National Security Agency was tapping into undersea cables to snatch up foreigners’ email messages, chats and other communications.
Apple’s new encryption tool will only apply to devices using its new operating system and not its iCloud storage service, which thieves accessed to get the celebrity photos this summer.
Apple CEO Tim Cook has tried to differentiate his company from competitors such as Google or Facebook, who use people’s data to market advertising to them.
“Our business model is very straightforward: We sell great products,” he wrote in an open letter posted on the company’s site. “We don’t build a profile based on your email content or Web browsing habits to sell to advertisers.”
Only months ago, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that police can access the data on people’s cellphones only with a warrant, a decision greeted warmly by privacy advocates.