The doubts and controversies surrounding Apple’s method of accessing and storing user information continue to rise as Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) send a formal letter to Tim Cook, the Apple CEO, requiring explanation of severe doubts in “policies and practices … [for] protecting the information of iPhone users and their contacts.”
Apple Inc. and its CEO have been given until February 29 to provide a satisfactory response.
The move followed concerns raised last week by Arun Thampi, a well-known developer, about the manner in which Path, a new social networking app for iPhone, was acquiring personal information of iPhone users and storing them on third party servers without explicit user permission.
While showing step-by-step how this was being done regularly without the knowledge and assent of iPhone users, Thampi made the following disclaimer, just to remain safe:
“I’m not insinuating that Path is doing something nefarious with my address book but I feel quite violated that my address book is being held remotely on a third-party service. I love Path as an iOS app and I think there are some brilliant people working on it, but this seems a little creepy. I wonder how many other iOS apps actually do the same…”
Once, the methods were revealed and established beyond doubt, several other iOS developers independently confirmed that most popular apps running on the iPhone engages in similar behavior and collects personal data of users silently – and for lack of a better adverb – surreptitiously.
While CEO Dave Morin of PATH have already publicly apologized after being caught in the act, and has claimed to have permanently deleted all user data from the servers of the company, we have only their word to accept. However, such an act does not answer the question why for over a long stretch of time, user information was being acquired through the back end of iPhone.
In an update that comes almost too late, Path has now added a pop-up box that asks for user permission before accessing data and sharing their address book and list of contacts.
However, it seems to be only the tip of the iceberg, as old and popular apps like Foursquare, Twitter, and Facebook apps of the iPhone seem to have been doing the same over a long time.
The violation of user’s rights has forced the U.S. Congress to sit up and take note, precipitating an enquiry.
The shocking thing, as expressed by Dustin Curtis in his personal blog is that “It’s not really a secret, per se, but there’s a quiet understanding among many iOS developers that it is acceptable to send a user’s entire address book, without their permission, to remote servers and the store it for future reference.”