Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Apple's Policy to Curb User Tracking

This is a guest post by Natalia David.

Apple has come up with a new policy, which is set to throw the proverbial cat into the cell phone tracking pigeons, by making it harder for company to monitor the activity of the user for a wide array of reasons. A lot of companies track the activity of the users on their iPhone and iPad and this helps them study the user behavior, which helps them design their own products in synchrony with the user needs. This has been touted by the privacy proponents as blatant breach of privacy and hence Apple’s new move has been designed to counter this practice. iPhone tracking software being used by advertisers at times took help from the UDID’s.

Phasing out access to cater to privacy concerns
The aforementioned move from Apple designed last year, when the company started phasing out developer access to unique device identifiers (UDID). UDIDs are unique numbers on the cell phones that various companies use to track the Internet browser cookies, which helps them monitor the activity on various apps and then use information for advertising accordingly. The irony is that although they may not intend to do so, these companies did nothing different than what a typical iPhone spy app does.

Ever escalating privacy concerns have meant that Apple couldn’t have ignored the fact that companies are digging out reservoirs of information through Apple devices. The extracted information can potentially include the location history of the phone, personal details and the use of all the apps.

Apple has now asked developers to create unique IDs which are specific to their own apps. This in turn should eliminate the unwarranted access to the personal data of the users.

Following Google’s lead

Apple’s line of action is reminiscent of the one Google took to counter the privacy defaults. Apple putting in a privacy protection option with advertising companies working around it is another Google-esque move. The approach is said to be two-pronged, with the first profiting from the “pasteboards” in the mobile operating system of Apple. The pasteboards were originally designed to allow users to paste data from one app to another. However, the developers conjured up the idea to use them for ID storage, which is even effective if the app is closed or if the system reboots. Another version of this approach is called OpenUDID, which again protects the UDIDs of the cell phones from being hijacked by the advertisers for their personal benefit. iPhone tracking has indeed reached new heights of proliferation.

Advertisers’ point of view
With regards to the Apple maneuver, a lot of the advertising companies are claiming that the change in policy isn’t necessarily for privacy reasons. Some are touting the move as Apple vying to skew matters in its favor by using identifiers for iAd – its own advertisement network. And therefore, these advertising companies continue to reiterate that they are not in fact violating privacy or the spirit of any policy. The advertisers say that they have no intention of breaching privacy or extracting personal information, all they are interesting in the activity pattern of the user. Using this pattern the companies can improve their products, and this in turn would help the user as well.

This means that the advertisers might just come up with a strong reply, if Apple puts its new policy into practice. However, the logical thing would be to look for a compromise between solving privacy issues, and allowing companies to advertise their products as well.

About the Author

Natalia David, a blogger by profession an author significantly contributes towards PC security and iPhone spy. She recently read an article on keystroke logger that attracted her attention a lot so she shifted her interest towards hacking. If you want to know more about Natalia you can follow her on twitter @NataliaDavid4