What Apple Thinks it Knows About You

This is a response to this.

Sure, our smartphones can have a lot of personal information in them and much of it is shared with “the cloud”. Sometimes that’s the device manufacturer that is supplying services. Sometimes that’s a third-party company that makes a social network you want to participate in. Whatever. Let’s talk about Apple, in particular.

Your identity

Apple asks you to sign in or register an Apple ID during the setup process for iPhone, but you have the option to skip this step entirely. Doing so will limit certain features of the phone. But if you want to create an Apple ID, Apple asks that you supply your name, your birthdate, a valid email address, telephone number, zip code, city, state, country and home address. But you can about these things. Apple doesn’t verify any of this information, save for the email address. And having an email address doesn’t really identify you— there’s no credit card involved in getting a Gmail or Yahoo mail account.

Your credit card information

Apple will have your credit card information if you give it to them. There are avenues for buying the phone itself with cash. And if/when you sign up for an Apple ID, you’re asked for a credit card, but you can decline to fill that in. For app purchases, you can always buy iTunes credit from any number of retailers and redeem them for use in the App Store or the iTunes store.

Your outdoor location

The GPS and location services on your phone are activated during the setup of the device. If enabled, location services can report the phone’s location to Apple. If that bothers you, then don’t enable location services, or turn it off under the “Privacy” section of the Settings app.

Your indoor location

Again, location services are an opt-in feature. Micro-location still falls under location services which are easily disabled.

Your behaviour

If you make purchases in the App Store or iTunes store, Apple can build a purchase profile about you. But no one is holding a gun to your head to buy these things. If you’re really worried about Apple relating your love for Phish, then you can load your entire CD-ripped collection onto the device through a computer. It’s also possible to jail break most iPhones and load software onto it through “alternative” sources (not recommended, but there you go).

Your movement

This part of the article assumes you’ve bought an iPhone 5s. Well, the A7 processor does track your spatial movement through an accelerometer but this information is only shared with applications that have been given your permission to use it. If you are wary of those apps, then don’t grant them permission and simply delete them.

Your face

Apple will store photos you take with your phone on iCloud in a personal Photo Stream if you have enabled iCloud and Photo Stream to begin with. Apple cannot, however, force you to take selfies even if you do use iCloud.

Your fingerprint

The iPhone 5s does use a sensor under the home button to allow you to unlock your device using fingerprint identification. The process for enabling this is simple, but requires a training process that is user initiated. The iPhone will not scan your fingers without enabling Touch ID.

What Apple Really Knows About You

So here’s what Apple can really know, for absolutely certain. That a device of theirs with a particular serial number was purchased and used with a SIM card with a specific serial number and phone number (this is communicated during the phone activation process). That’s it.

As for any of these other things: Apple will only have them if you give it to them yourself. Your identity, credit card, location, behavior, movement, face and fingerprint are all safe from Apple. Now, your wireless carrier might know more information about both you and your location (based on cell tower usage), but that would be the case regardless of what phone you’re using.

In short, there’s nothing to fear here but fear itself.

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This article was published on October 9, 2013 12:08 AM.

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