Apple’s OS X Yosemite is a great update for Mac users, bringing a ton of new features and a new look. There’s also a new, smarter Spotlight search which gives you results as you type. You can get movie times, information from Wikipedia and quickly convert measurements. However, some enterprising users noticed that Apple is collecting all of your search data.
The data collection doesn’t stop at Spotlight, but extends to Safari as well. This means you’re sending searches not only to your default search provider like Google or Yahoo, but also to Apple. This means even if you use an anonymous search engine like DuckDuckGo, your searches will still be sent to Apple.
Is this legal?
Yes, Apple is collecting your search data legally because of its terms of service. The terms state, “When you use Spotlight, your search queries, the Spotlight Suggestions you select, and related usage data will be sent to Apple.”
However, some users may find it a little unsettling that Apple doesn’t make this fact more transparent after installing and setting up OS X Yosemite.
Can I stop Apple from collecting my searches?
Apple does in fact let you turn this tracking off. To do so, you’ll have to disable Spotlight suggestions in two locations. Here’s where you can find the settings:
– Launch the System Preferences app and the click on Spotlight. Click on Search Results and uncheck both Spotlight Suggestions and Bing Web Searches.
– Launch Safari and access the app’s preferences. Click Search and uncheck Spotlight Suggestions.
There are other OS X Yosemite processes that are phoning home to Apple, but it’s unclear why Apple is collecting this data. It could be using it to get a better idea of how users are using Yosemite but it seems strange that Apple is opting everyone in. Apple doesn’t rely on selling advertising unlike Google and Microsoft, so its data collection isn’t for targeted advertising.
This move seems contradictory to the pro-security stance. The company vowed to make iCloud safer by adding two-factor authentication. Apple also made it more difficult for the government to surveil citizens by enabling encryption by default in iOS 8.
UPDATE: Apple responded to allegations of tracking user location and searches by clarifying that the data is not tied to specific user IDs. The user changes every 15 minutes to help obscure usernames.
UPDATE 2: In a statement to site iMore, Apple said:
“We are absolutely committed to protecting our users’ privacy and have built privacy right into our products. For Spotlight Suggestions we minimize the amount of information sent to Apple. 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.
“We also worked closely with Microsoft to protect our users’ privacy. 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.
“You can also easily opt out of Spotlight Suggestions, Bing or Location Services for Spotlight.”
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