Researchers have found that Apple collects iPhone data even when the company’s own iPhone analytics settings are set not to.
Apple is facing a class action lawsuit for allegedly harvesting iPhone customer data even when the company’s privacy settings are configured not to. The suit, filed last Thursday in California federal court, comes just days after Gizmodo exclusively reported on research into how multiple iPhone apps send Apple analytics data, regardless of whether the iPhone Analytics privacy setting is turned on or off.
The problem was spotted by two researchers at the software company Mysk, who found that the Apple App Store sends the company exhaustive information about nearly everything a user does in the app, despite a privacy setting, iPhone Analytics, which claims to “disable the sharing of Device Analytics altogether” when switched off. Gizmodo requested the researchers to run additional tests on other iPhone apps, including Apple TV, Apple Music, Books, and Stocks. The researchers found that the problem persists across most of Apple’s built-in iPhone apps. Researchers also found that the iPhone Apps evade VPN connectivity and directly send data to Apple.
The lawsuit accuses Apple of violating the California Invasion of Privacy Act. “Privacy is one of the main issues that Apple uses to set its products apart from competitors,” the plaintiff, Elliot Libman, said in the suit, which can be read on Bloomberg Law. “But Apple’s privacy guarantees are completely illusory.” The company has plastered billboards across the country with the slogan “Privacy. That’s iPhone.”
“Through its pervasive and unlawful data tracking and collection business, Apple knows even the most intimate and potentially embarrassing aspects of the user’s app usage regardless of whether the user accepts Apple’s illusory offer to keep such activities private,” the lawsuit stated.
Apple’s privacy settings make explicit claims about shutting off that tracking. But in the tests, turning the iPhone analytics setting off does not affect the data harvesting, and neither did any of the iPhone’s other built-in settings meant to protect a customer’s privacy from Apple’s data collection.
As seen in a video posted to the Mysk YouTube Channel, the App Store appears to harvest information about your activity in real-time, including what you tap on, which apps you search for, what ads you see, how you found the app and how long you spent at the app’s page.
Mysk’s tests on the App Store found that Apple receives the data along with details that can identify customers and their devices, including ID numbers, what kind of phone they’re using, their screen resolution, their keyboard languages, and how they’re connected to the internet, the type of information commonly used for device fingerprinting.
When researchers looked at more iPhone apps at Gizmodo’s request, they found that many did the same thing. While the Wallet and Health apps didn’t collect analytical data, Apple Music, Apple TV, the iTunes Store, Books, and Stocks did. The Stocks app shared data, including a customer’s list of watched stocks, the names of stocks they searched or viewed, and time stamps for when customers did it, along with a record of any news articles customers saw in the app.
This data can be sensitive, especially when you consider that merely searching for apps related to religion, health, and addiction can reveal details about a person’s life.