Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Yosemite Phone Home

The fix macosx folks have a Git repository showing all the data that Yosemite sends to Apple, with different preferences settings:

When the user selects ‘About this Mac’ from the Apple menu, Yosemite phones home and s_vi, a unique analytics identifier, is included in the request. (s_vi is used by Adobe/Omniture’s analytics software).

Speculation is that it is looking up the marketing name of the Mac model. The cookie was first set when visiting Apple’s Web site.

The logs show that a copy of your Safari searches are still sent to Apple, even when selecting DuckDuckGo as your search provider, and ‘Spotlight Suggestions’ are disabled in System Preferences > Spotlight.

This is because Safari has a separate preference (under Search, not Privacy) to turn off Spotlight Suggestions.

When setting up a new account for the address, which is hosted locally, searching the logs for “” shows that Mail quietly sends the domain entered by the user to Apple, too.

My guess is that Apple has a database of mail server configuration information to help make the setup process smoother for users.

I don’t think Apple is doing any nefarious here, but it is a good exercise to make this sort of list. I hope that Apple is doing so internally and that one day they will be more transparent about it the way they are about iOS security. The current privacy policy is a good start.

An open question is the extent to which Tim Cook’s vision is possible:

A few years ago, users of Internet services began to realize that when an online service is free, you’re not the customer. You’re the product. But at Apple, we believe a great customer experience shouldn’t come at the expense of your privacy.

Cook frames it as Apple not needing your information because it isn’t monetizing it, but there are definitely cases where having more information would help Apple improve the user experience—at the expense of privacy. It is not always possible to maximize both.

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