Hiding Data From Apple Is 'Virtually Impossible': Experts

By Jason Hall

April 8, 2024

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Experts are warning Apple customers that it's "virtually impossible" to hide their data.

Research from Aalto University in Finland suggests that default apps on iPhones, iPads and MacBooks collect personal data, even when they appear to be disabled, South West News Service reported via the New York Post. The new study is the first to reveal that privacy settings of the default apps aren't avoidable after previous reports that third-party apps were capable of invading users' privacy.

“We focused on apps that are an integral part of the platform and ecosystem. These apps are glued to the platform, and getting rid of them is virtually impossible,” said Associate Professor Janne Lindqvist, head of the computer science department at Aalto, via EurekAlert!

The eight default apps analyzed in the study included Safari, Siri, Family Sharing, iMessage, FaceTime, Location Services, Find My and Touch ID and researchers were surprised to see how fragile privacy protections were.

“Due to the way the user interface is designed, users don’t know what is going on,” Lindqvist said. “For example, the user is given the option to enable or not enable Siri, Apple’s virtual assistant. But enabling only refers to whether you use Siri’s voice control. Siri collects data in the background from other apps you use, regardless of your choice, unless you understand how to go into the settings and specifically change that.”

The study comes one week after News.com.au reported that the 'Discoverable by Others,' which is included under the 'Journaling Suggestions' tab of the iPhone's privacy and security, was automatically turned on iPhones worldwide as part of the latest Apple iOS 17.2 software update. Apple can use the consumer's historical data stored on the phone, including music, photos, texts and locations, to suggest moments to include in the journal app when the feature is turned on.

Users will, however, have the 'Discoverable by Others' feature turned on by default if they don't turn it off themselves, which is also the case if they've deleted the Journal app completely. Jonanna Stern, senior personal technology columnist for the Wall Street Journal, claimed the app sounds creepier than it actually is after using it herself following concerns from many users, but still advised others to turn it off anyway if they don't want their information shared.

Stern said she was told by Apple that the phone can use Bluetooth to detect nearby devices in your contacts, without storing which specific contacts were in the area, and use the data to improve suggestions through the Journaling app. The company denied that it shared users' names and locations with others following claims and backlash on social media, instead comparing the app to hosting a dinner party with friends in your contacts.

Apple also said that its system may prioritize the event in Journaling Suggestions and recognize that it's a unique social gathering based on the headcount.

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