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Apple OS X Yosemite Tracks Your Location, Shares It With Others

Monday, January 19th, 2015

Yosemite is the latest version of Apple’s desktop operating system Mac OS X. While the OS itself is a significant improvement over the previous versions of OS X, it also includes a controversial feature that has the potential to compromise the location and privacy of the users. As per tech analysts, the Spotlight search functionality available with Yosemite tracks the location of the users and even shares the information with other service providers. The revelation couldn’t have come at a worse time for Apple since it is already reeling from the after effects of the infamous celebrity data leak episode.

Spotlight is a feature available in OS X and iOS which helps the users to locate files and information faster. In the previous versions of OS X, Spotlight could only search contacts, documents, photos, preferences and apps that are stored locally. However, the Spotlight feature available in Yosemite is a lot more powerful since it can also bring search results from iTunes, Wikipedia, Apple Maps and Bing. While the improved functionality would definitely help the users to find answers to their questions faster, it also compromises the location of the users.

To understand how Spotlight compromises user privacy, we need to look at the terms of service that are applicable for Yosemite users. In the “About Spotlight & Privacy” section of the document, Apple clearly states that the search queries, Spotlight suggestions and usage data are automatically sent to the company whenever users use the Spotlight feature. Additionally, if the location services are enabled for the device, the location of the device is sent to the company along with the above parameters. What’s more, Apple shares search and location data with other providers including Bing which can further compromise user privacy.

The above disclosures have naturally raised privacy concerns among Mac users. However, Apple has defended itself by saying that it doesn’t store user searches nor does it create user profiles based on location or search queries. The company further added that it is not capable of tracking users or their locations beyond 15 minutes since the User Identification Number automatically changes after that time. Apple has also clarified repeatedly in the recent past that unlike companies like Google or Facebook, it does not use the private information of users to display targeted advertisements. And while the company admitted that it shared location data with Bing, it was quick to add that Microsoft is bound by contract not to use that information for targeted advertising.

If you do not want to share your search queries and location information with Apple, you need to disable the “Spotlight Suggestions” option available within the Spotlight section of System Preferences. While making the changes, make sure that you disable the “Bing Web Searches” option as well otherwise your location information would be passed on to Bing. In addition, you would also need to disable the “Spotlight Suggestions” setting for the Safari browser otherwise Apple would know your location whenever you browse the web.

January 19, 2015

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