According to the report by Bloomberg, Apple Inc. changed the rules in its App Store last week so that app developers are limited in the way they use information about iPhone users’ contacts. In doing so, the tech giant has closed a loophole which was letting app developers store and share data from iPhone users’ contacts without their consent.
For many years now, the norm has been than apps will request users for access to their contacts and then use that information for marketing purposes. A lot of times, this information is also sold or shared with other third parties, and all this is done without the consent of the people listed in users’ contacts.
The thing is, this tactic is common for both Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android operating systems, with it being used to increase growth and make more money. However, it is exactly this tactic that also got Facebook into such trouble this year. One of its app developers gave the political consultancy Cambridge Analytica access to data about the social media platform’s users’ friends and contacts.
While Apple was right there criticizing Facebook about its lapse in data security, the tech giant wasn’t as public about only now closing the loophole in its policies. The company recently held its annual developer conference on June 4, at Cupertino, California, where many new announcements were publically made. This included details about the company’s limits on tracking of internet browsing.
However, despite all the “revelations”, the company did not make a public mention of the new App Store Review Guidelines. The new rules now ban develops from creating databases of the address books of iPhone users. Now, the sharing as well as selling of such databases to third parties is prohibited. Additionally, a developer must get user consent for every single use of that database. This means that if the developer go permission to from iPhone users to utilize their information for one thing, if the developer want to use that database for another project, then permission must be taken once again.
Since the App Store was launched in 2008, allegations of users’ contact lists being abused have come up occasionally. Thus, in 2012, the company added an option for users to explicitly give permission to developers to access their contacts, photos, locations, etc.
Some apps, such as Uber and Facebook also allowed users to remove contacts that had been previously uploaded. However, Apple hasn’t been able to create a mechanism to do that for all the apps that are on the App Store – there are just too many.
However, since then App Store rules have remained more or less unchanged. It is thanks to that that the company has been able to create a profitable ecosystem for itself. According to data shared by Apple, developers’ apps have generated more than $100 billion since the App Store was launched. The tech giant takes a royalty of 30% from app developers, so that’s a tidy little sum the company has made off of those apps.
According to the president of Appthority, an organization that advises the government as well as other corporates on mobile security, Domingo Guerra, Apple has a massive ecosystem that makes money through developers and their apps, and until developers improve their privacy standards, the tech giant is equally culpable for any lapses in data security.
And while Apple may finally be doing something about it now, it cannot do anything about the millions of data points it has already given away. This because after the company has given permission to a developer to access information, it cannot be taken back.