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Apple reiterates commitment to user privacy following Spotlight Suggestions 'backlash'

Apple reiterates commitment to user privacy following Spotlight Suggestions 'backlash'

October 21, 2014

The report published by a major publication on the alleged lack of privacy of Apple’s Spotlight Suggestions in OS X Yosemite and iOS 8 has been greatly exaggerated.

Earlier today, The Washington Post posted an article with the lead: “Apple has begun automatically collecting the locations of users and the queries they type when searching for files with the newest Mac operating system, a function that has provoked backlash for a company that portrays itself as a leader on privacy.”

The thing is, it’s more a case of a sensational report creating the so-called “backlash” rather than that of an article actually reporting on an actual backlash.

It’s no surprise, then, that Apple has deemed it necessary to clarify how it handles user information with regard to Spotlight Suggestions and to reiterate its commitment to user privacy.

“For Spotlight Suggestions we minimize the amount of information sent to Apple,” the company said in a statement to iMore. “Apple doesn’t retain IP addresses from users’ devices. Spotlight blurs the location on the device so it never sends an exact location to Apple. Spotlight doesn’t use a persistent identifier, so a user’s search history can’t be created by Apple or anyone else. Apple devices only use a temporary anonymous session ID for a 15-minute period before the ID is discarded.”

Apple also said that neither it nor Microsoft, which runs the Bing search engine that powers Spotlight Suggestions, stores location information and search data. “We also worked closely with Microsoft to protect our users’ privacy,” Apple said. “Apple forwards only commonly searched terms and only city-level location information to Bing. Microsoft does not store search queries or receive users’ IP addresses.”

In addition, Apple noted that users can easily opt out of Spotlight Suggestions.

Indeed, users can disable the feature in the Spotlight section of System Preferences on OS X Yosemite and in the Spotlight Search section of the Settings app on iOS 8.

Launched in iOS 8 last month and in OS X Yosemite last week, the Spotlight Suggestions feature lets users find things faster by pulling information from sources beyond what’s on the device, including Wikipedia, Maps, iTunes, movie listings, news sites, and more.

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