While privacy advocates lauded Apple for the company’s decision to default to encrypting data on its latest mobile operating system, iOS 8, the technology firm faced criticism on Monday after independent researchers discovered that its latest operating system, Mac OS X Yosemite, is configured to send location and search data whenever a user queries Spotlight.
Spotlight is the company’s search feature for Mac OS X. The capability doesn’t just search a user’s computer, though; it also sends information to Apple and Microsoft to return searches from the companies’ services, according to Fix-MacOSX.com.
“When you use Spotlight, your search queries, the Spotlight Suggestions you select, and related usage data will be sent to Apple,” the company’s “About Spotlight & Privacy” document states. “If you have Location Services on your device turned on, when you make a search query to Spotlight the location of your device at that time will be sent to Apple.”
While the behavior is publicly noted in the Apple’s terms of service, most consumers will not have read those documents, according to Fix-MacOSX.com. Ashkan Soltani, an independent researcher and consultant, confirmed the behavior, labeling it “probably the worst example of ‘privacy by design’ I’ve seen yet.”
Users don’t even have to search to give up their privacy. Apple immediately sends the user’s location to the company, according to Soltani.
Update: Apple answered the criticism in a statement sent to Ars Technica, saying that the company had constructed the search feature to protect users’ privacy:
For Spotlight Suggestions we minimize the amount of information sent to Apple. Apple doesn’t retain IP addresses from users’ devices. Spotlight blurs the location on the device so it never sends an exact location to Apple. Spotlight doesn’t use a persistent identifier, so a user’s search history can’t be created by Apple or anyone else. Apple devices only use a temporary anonymous session ID for a 15-minute period before the ID is discarded.
We also worked closely with Microsoft to protect our users’ privacy. Apple forwards only commonly searched terms and only city-level location information to Bing. Microsoft does not store search queries or receive users’ IP addresses.
The company noted that users can turn the functionality off. To halt Mac OS X Yosemite from sending location and search data, you need to take the following steps, according to Fix-MacOSX.com:
Disable “Spotlight Suggestions” and “Bing Web Searches” in System Preferences > Spotlight > Search Results.
Safari also has a “Spotlight Suggestions” setting that is separate from Spotlight’s “Spotlight Suggestions.” This uses the same mechanism as Spotlight, and if left enabled, Safari will send a copy of all search queries to Apple.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that you’d already disabled “Spotlight Suggestions,” but you’ll also need to uncheck “Include Spotlight Suggestions” in Safari > Preferences > Search.
Original Article can be found here: