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Apple Rejects Apps Over Privacy Concerns

Escalating crackdown begins on apps that use UDID numbers to try and identify unique devices.

10 Top iOS 5 Apps
10 Top iOS 5 Apps
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Apple has begun rejecting iOS apps that use the unique identifier built into each iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch to track the device.

The move appears to have caught some developers by surprise. "Everyone's scrambling to get something into place," Victor Rubba, chief executive of Canadian developer Fluik--publisher of such games as Office Jerk and Plumber Crack--told TechCrunch, which first reported the crackdown by Apple. "We're trying to be proactive and we've already moved to an alternative scheme," he said.

According to TechCrunch, two out of Apple's 10 iOS review teams last week began rejecting any app that used UDID (which stands for "unique device identifier," which is a random, alphanumeric string assigned to every iOS device). "Next week, that will rise to four ... teams, and keep escalating until all 10 teams are turning down apps that are still using UDIDs," it reported.

[ The government is getting more involved in consumer privacy and security issues. Read FTC Calls For Data Privacy Laws. ]

Playhaven, which helps about 1,200 iOS developers monetize their apps, confirmed that some of the developers that it works with first started getting app updates rejected last week by Apple over the use of UDID. As a result, the company's CEO said that there's a scramble now to find an alternative system. While there are many options, such as using a device's Wi-Fi Mac address--which also poses privacy challenges--or adopting OpenUDID, an open source, single-sign-on system that users would opt into, developers have yet to agree on a single new standard.

While the UDID crackdown may make life difficult for the lucrative iOS advertising and gaming ecosystems, it didn't happen overnight. Indeed, Apple first warned in August 2011 that developers should cease tracking users by their device IDs. As of October 2011, with the official release of iOS 5.0, meanwhile, Apple officially said that using UDID to identify individual devices would become depreciated, meaning that it "has been superseded and may become unsupported in the future." Instead, it told developers that they should "create a unique identifier specific to your app."

Pressure on Apple to improve iOS app privacy practices has been steadily growing. Thursday, two ranking members of the House, Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) and G. K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), sent letters to 34 businesses that develop social iOS applications, including Facebook, Foursquare, and Twitter, asking them for details about their apps' information-collection practices.

"Following recent reports that apps could collect address book information and photos without notice and consent from users of Apple's mobile devices, the members are seeking to better understand what, if any, information these particular apps gather, what they do with it, and what notice they provide to app users," read the letter. "The members want the information to begin building a fact-based understanding of the privacy and security practices in the app marketplace."

This isn't the first time Apple has faced questions over UDID-related practices. In 2010, privacy advocates began warning that developers could use the UDID to track individual users. Or as a research paper released at the time by Eric Smith, assistant director of information security and networking at Bucknell University, put it: "Privacy and security advocates, personal iPhone owners, and corporate iPhone administrators should be concerned that it would be feasible--and technically, quite simple--for their browsing patterns, app usage, and physical location collected and sold to unintended customers such as advertisers, spouses, divorce lawyers, debt collectors, or industrial spies."

Last year, meanwhile, at least one related lawsuit was filed against Apple, over UDID tracking by app developers. The lawsuit cited a Wall Street Journal investigation which found that half of tested iOS and Android apps sent UDID information back to developers, advertising networks, or gaming syndicates without first gaining a user's authorization or consent.

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Bprince
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Bprince,
User Rank: Ninja
3/30/2012 | 3:22:17 AM
re: Apple Rejects Apps Over Privacy Concerns
I see why this caught some developers off guard, but it was also a longtime coming in a sense as the article notes. @readers: do you think Apple is doing the right thing here by rejecting these apps?
Brian Prince, InformationWeek/Dark Reading Comment Moderator
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