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Apple Logs Your iMessage Contacts — and May Share Them With Police

The Intercept:

Every time you type a number into your iPhone for a text conversation, the Messages app contacts Apple servers to determine whether to route a given message over the ubiquitous SMS system, represented in the app by those déclassé green text bubbles, or over Apple’s proprietary and more secure messaging network, represented by pleasant blue bubbles, according to the document. Apple records each query in which your phone calls home to see who’s in the iMessage system and who’s not.

This log also includes the date and time when you entered a number, along with your IP address — which could, contrary to a 2013 Apple claim that “we do not store data related to customers’ location,” identify a customer’s location. Apple is compelled to turn over such information via court orders for systems known as “pen registers” or “trap and trace devices,” orders that are not particularly onerous to obtain, requiring only that government lawyers represent they are “likely” to obtain information whose “use is relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation.” Apple confirmed to The Intercept that it only retains these logs for a period of 30 days, though court orders of this kind can typically be extended in additional 30-day periods, meaning a series of monthlong log snapshots from Apple could be strung together by police to create a longer list of whose numbers someone has been entering.

That Apple has to run a lookup to see whether to send a message securely using Messages or insecurely using SMS isn’t surprising. And the 30 day retention period is likely to help iron out bugs associated with operating a global messaging system: when things go wonky (and they do…) engineers need some kind of data to troubleshoot what’s going on.

Importantly, Apple is not logging communications. Nor is it recording if you communicate with someone who is assigned a particular phone number. All that is retained is the lookup itself. So if you ever type in a wrong number that lookup is recorded, regardless of whether you communicate with whomever holds the number.

More troubling is the fact that Apple does not disclose this information when an individual formally requests copies of all their personal information that Apple retains about them. These lookups arguably constitute personal information, and information like IP addresses etc certainly constitute this information under Canadian law.

Apple, along with other tech companies, ought to release their lawful access guides so that users know and understand what information is accessible to authorities and under what terms. It isn’t enough to just disclose how often such requests are received and complied with: customers should be able to evaluate the terms under which Apple asserts it will, or will not, disclose that information in the first place.

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Jawbone reportedly tried to sell itself

Jawbone reportedly tried to sell itself:

Jawbone’s hunger to sell itself is evidence of how dire the situation has become for one of leading wearable tech companies in the industry. Competitor Fitbit has managed to increase sales of its fitness trackers even with Apple participating. Jawbone, on the other hand, has seen its relevance in the market wither with time, as it’s transitioned from bluetooth audio products to wrist-worn fitness bands. Many other wearable makers, including Misfit and Basis, have sold themselves to large tech or apparel companies, and even giants like Nike have gotten out of the wearable hardware business. Jawbone’s fate may be similar, but it’s running out of time. According to The Information, Jawbone delayed payment to one of its business partners this month.

Jawbone is sitting on a lot of user information. While they sell physical things, I’m mostly interested in knowing the value of all the fitness information that will presumably be sold as part of the business.

Skype Discloses Subscriber Info to Private Investigators

In a not-particularly-surprising move, Skype handed over a 16 year old’s subscriber information to a firm hired by Paypal. No warrant was required, as the information was provided to a private party, and that party subsequently gave it to police. In essence, a very large telecommunications service provider (TSP) made available personally identifiable information that, ultimately, led to an arrest without authorities having to convince a judge that they had legitimate grounds to get that information from the TSP.

At a talk I recently attended, a retired Assistant RCMP Commissioner emphasized time and time again that Canadians need to be more worried about corporations like Skype, Google, and Facebook than they do the federal or provincial governments. He correctly, I believe, spoke to the social harms that these companies can and do cause to individuals who both subscribe and do not subscribe to the companies’ service offerings.

Non-controversially, we know that many large companies can take actions that are harmful to individuals, as can states themselves. What is less recognized, however, is that there are more and more cases where private intermediaries are acting as one or two degrees of separation between public institutions and large private data stores. Such ‘intermediary protection’ often lets states access and use personal data that they otherwise cannot access without considerable difficulty. Worse, where authorities refuse to bring intermediary-provided data to court it can be challenging for accused persons to argue that an investigation was predicated on inappropriate access to their personal data. More time has to be spent considering the role of these data intermediaries and thinking through how to prevent the disclosure of personal data to state authorities in the absence of judicial oversight. Failure to tackle this problem will simply lead to more and more inappropriate access to corporate data by authorities, and critically to access without adequate or necessary judicial oversight.

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App Developers Face Fines for Lacking Privacy Policies

To be clear and up front: privacy policies suck. I’m currently analyzing the policies of major social networks and if the policies were merely horrific then they’d be massively better than they actually are today.

That said, a privacy policy at least indicates that an organization took the time to copy someone else’s policy. For the briefest of moments there was some (however marginal) contemplation about how the organization’s actions related to privacy. While most companies will just hire a lawyer to slap legalese on their websites, a few will actually think about their data collection and its implications for individuals’ privacy. That’s really all you can hope for privacy policies to generally accomplish unless the company out-and-out lies in their policy. If they do lie then you can get the FTC involved.

The potential for ‘enjoying’ a $2,500 fine per download if a company lacks a privacy policy is a massive stick and, hopefully, will get developers to at least consider how their collection of data implicates users’ privacy. The California approach is not the solution to the problem of people’s data being collected without their genuine consent but at least it’s a start.