We can all agree that, in general, online privacy is good and companies collecting your data without permission is bad. Even so, the hysteria surrounding Apple's new operating system, Yosemite, and its data-collection practices may seem a little absurd. While Yosemite does, indeed, collect user search data, the process is both anonymized and optional.
The Internet got up in arms about Yosemite's Spotlight feature after Apple posted a notice (opens in new tab) about it Oct. 17.
"Your search queries, the Spotlight Suggestions you select and related usage data will be sent to Apple," the Apple support site informs users.
This is potentially distressing, of course, as even if your search queries are as pure as the driven snow, you probably don't want to share them with Apple — or with Microsoft, since the information gets forwarded to Bing.
iMore, an Apple-centric news site, assuaged Apple fans' fears after an initial rash of somewhat alarmist articles on other sites. The publication contacted Apple and learned that Spotlight does not track user IP addresses, generalizes user locations and creates randomized, non-permanent IDs for each user who submits data.
Likewise, Bing does not store IPs or record search data. If you don't want to share your data with Apple or Microsoft, security research Ashkan Soltani tweeted a screenshot of what to deselect in the Spotlight settings menu. One could argue that these selections should have been opt-in rather than opt-out, but turning them off is hardly difficult.
Keep in mind that even if you do disable Spotlight's data-sharing, it will still be able to scan your computer in order to provide you with personalized recommendations on iTunes and the App Store. Fix MacOSX, an organization dedicated to doing exactly what its name says, has provided a toolkit to disrupt Spotlight's recommendations, but the toolkit is still a work-in-progress.
Is Apple collecting your data in Yosemite? Yes. Is it tracking you? Unless it's lying through its teeth, no. Turn it off if you don't like it, but your privacy hackles are probably best raised elsewhere.
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