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1. The iPhone, privacy claims, and 5,400 hidden app trackers

Apple Messages

The Washington Post has given Apple a black eye today, showing its messaging on iPhone privacy looks more like marketing than reality.

Here’s how the WashPo piece starts:

Apple says, “What happens on your iPhone stays on your iPhone.” Our privacy experiment showed 5,400 hidden app trackers guzzled our data — in a single week.

It’s enough to make me think this piece may force changes at Apple.

What’s going on:

  • Reporter Geoffrey Fowler paired with privacy firm Disconnect for an investigation, testing Fowler’s iPhone to discover what data was being sent from a variety of common and popular apps.
  • The findings don’t read well for Apple’s ‘stays on your iPhone’ claims:
  • “On a recent Monday night, a dozen marketing companies, research firms and other personal data guzzlers got reports from my iPhone.”
  • “At 11:43 p.m., a company called Amplitude learned my phone number, email and exact location. At 3:58 a.m., another called Appboy got a digital fingerprint of my phone.”
  • “At 6:25 a.m., a tracker called Demdex received a way to identify my phone and sent back a list of other trackers to pair up with.”
  • “And all night long, there was some startling behavior by a household name: Yelp. It was receiving a message that included my IP address -— once every five minutes.”
  • In the end, within a week, 5,400 hidden trackers used Fowler’s data.

Why it matters:

  • As we should all know by now, our digital information fuels a world of advertising, tracking, marketing, and big data. But we don’t know, and there’s zero transparency on offer, and we don’t understand the value of what we freely are giving away without realizing.
  • Research and revenue are the reasons.
  • From the report, is this excellent quote: “This is your data. Why should it even leave your phone? Why should it be collected by someone when you don’t know what they’re going to do with it?” says Patrick Jackson, a former National Security Agency researcher.
  • (Note Fowler also mentions that his publication, The Washington Post, tracked him as well and passed along his information to third parties. Indeed, if you open the WashPo site, tracking scripts from 25 or so outside parties rush to figure out who you are, as noted by Pinboard on Twitter.)

No quick fix:

  • There are a few layers in this problem.
  • The software fabric of an iPhone or an Android device, and the way native apps work, means you have far less control over what happens to data like your location, IP address, and unique “fingerprinting” information that ad trackers use.
  • Determining what’s more-or-less spyware and what is a useful geolocation check to provide you with a service is next to impossible.
  • Without considerable effort, you can’t know what’s happening, either.
  • On a PC or Mac, firewalls, and apps like Little Snitch on Mac drastically throttle or alert you to incoming and outgoing connections being made.
  • On a smartphone, not so much.
  • iPhones do have more options, discussed next, but on Android, Google’s rules prohibit apps that might interfere with another app displaying ads.
  • Stopping the Google ad machine isn’t easily allowed.

What you can do:

  • On an iPhone, turn off Background App Refresh, and seek out and enable a privacy setting called “Limit Ad Tracking”.
  • And, see if Apple responds to the storm around this post with any further changes in iOS.
  • Android users will need to wait for Android Q availability to access more default settings.
  • Until then, there are some useful security and privacy apps including Bouncer, which is an effective way of removing those weird and unnecessary app permissions, like a flashlight app requesting access to USB storage or WiFi networks. Glasswire, also in the list, shows you the apps using your data in real time.
  • Or, root your Android phone – but that’s not simple for most users.

Bonus: How to set your Google account to delete itself after you die (CNBC)

2. There’s a new iPod Touch – it’s the same iPod Touch, but with better internals starting at $199 (Android Authority). It still has a headphone jack.


3.  Intel is working on a gaming laptop prototype with two screens, after Asus announced its dual-screen laptop at Computex. The Intel prototype is weird, but has some interesting ideas (The Verge).

4. Samsung’s two new chips promise to deliver fast and secure 100W USB-C charging (AA).

5. MediaTek’s Helio M70 5G chip targets affordable flagships – competition in 5G means cheaper 5G phones, in theory (AA). Also, T-Mobile is quietly testing its 5G network in New York City!

6. With Huawei on the defensive, Ericsson and Nokia stand to see massive gains in 4G LTE and 5G equipment (WSJ).

7. Mackenzie Bezos announces she’ll give away at least half of her new fortune (Giving Pledge). Former husband Jeff Bezos hasn’t signed the pledge.

8. Pokémon is getting a new cloud service and a game where you play by sleeping (The Verge).

9. Two self-driving startups team up to build a different kind of Lidar (Ars Technica).

10. 500+ tornado reports in the U.S. in May, after a few quiet years (AP).

11. How are clothes washed aboard the ISS? (r/askscience).

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