Do Apple’s Apps Have a Privacy Loophole?

App Store 2008

Is Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) doing enough to protect users’ privacy from intrusive iPhone apps? Researchers from the University of California, San Diego examined 90,000 iPhones in a recent study and found that 48 percent of apps on these devices accessed the unique identifying information from the phone they were installed on, reports the MIT Technology Review.

Since May 1, Apple has forbidden developers from creating “new apps or app updates that access UDIDs [unique device IDs].” Despite this ban, the study’s researchers discovered many of the apps that accessed a device’s UDID had not been updated since that date.

App developers typically use the information on users’ phones to develop profiles for targeted advertisements. Perhaps even more alarming, researchers found that 13 percent of the apps accessed information revealing the device’s location. Approximately 6 percent accessed the iPhone’s address book and another 1.6 percent accessed the music library.

The researchers collected their data using an app called ProtectMyPrivacy. However, Apple’s mobile operating system does not allow the installation of apps that monitor other apps, so the researchers had to conduct their study using “jailbroken” iPhones. Still, the researchers note that the results of the study still apply to all users, since most of the apps on the iPhones in their study were the same ones used on standard iPhones.

Fortunately, it appears Apple is taking measures to block these apps’ access to iPhone UDIDs in the new iOS 7. But iOS 6 still contains an application programming interface that allows apps to access the iPhone’s UDID.

Yuvraj Agarwal, one of the researchers who conducted the study, told MIT Technology Review he tried to submit an app to Apple’s App Store that would allow iPhone users to look up data about the information various apps were collecting from users’ phones. His app was rejected. An Apple employee told him, “We have a problem with the concept of the app.”

Follow Nathanael on Twitter (@ArnoldEtan_WSCS)

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