Apple Tracks Alarming Amount of Data Even When Device Analytics is Turned Off

Apple has built an empire on the back of its privacy-oriented approach. It has used various messaging, ads, and even speeches from its CEO, Tim Cook, to underscore the company’s dedication to protecting your privacy. This comes at a time in our history when our devices are constantly monitoring everything we do — online and off.

Yet, despite this apparent loyalty to its customers’ privacy, researchers recently found Apple’s strong promises may only be a strong facade. In their investigation, Tommy Mysk and Talal Haj Bakry from the software company Mysk found Apple collects an absurd amount of data… even when you disable data sharing on iPhone via Device Analytics.

The evidence presented by these researchers go directly against Apple’s claims of privacy protection. 

Apple’s Privacy Grandstanding Rests on a Bed of Lies

Apple ad in black and white on side of a building
Apple has made privacy a core pillar of its business.

Most of us just accept Apple’s privacy policy without reading it too closely, much like most other privacy policies. That’s because these long documents are filled with lengthy descriptions full of legal jargon, and no one has time to figure it all out. You just hit accept so you can start using your iPhone — because you can’t use this expensive device you just bought without first saying “Yes” to something.

At the very top of Apple’s Data & Privacy statement, where you’ll probably see it, the company says “Apple believes privacy is a fundamental human right.” As reassuring as it’s meant to be, this is no legal claim, which is why the rest of the privacy policy goes into detail about how the company collects your data. In addition, Apple uses some interesting ways to make you think it will protect your information.

For example, on its website, Apple uses a different definition of “tracking” so it can keep promoting the image that other companies are gathering your data while it doesn’t. Apple defines tracking as information pooled from third parties. Even though it does track you through its own apps, that apparently doesn’t count. Have a look: 

Privacy statement on Apple's website
Apple tries to redefine the meaning of tracking

While this creative word-play comes across as scummy, it’s still not clear-cut lying. Something that is a direct inconsistency between what Apple says and does, though, is iPhone Analytics.

Privacy Settings on iPhone Don’t Stop Apple From Tracking You

When you disable analytics, Apple states this will “disable the sharing of Device Analytics altogether.” Except, according to the researchers at Mysk, this — as well as enabling other privacy settings — doesn’t stop anything. Apple’s apps, including the App Store, Apple TV, Apple Music, Apple Stocks, and Apple Books, still collect the same data they did before disabling analytics. What’s more, these apps collect a tremendous amount of highly sensitive data.

“The level of detail is shocking for a company like Apple. I switched all the possible options off, namely personalized ads, personalized recommendations, and sharing usage data and analytics, but it didn’t reduce the amount of detailed analytics that the app was sending,” Mysk told Gizmodo.

The App Store, for example, appears to track everything you do in real time, including what you looked at and for how long, where you tapped on the app, which ads you saw, and how you found the apps you looked at. The Apple Stocks app collects data about which stocks you look at, your watched stocks list, which stocks you searched for and when, and what news articles you saw on the app.

Even more concerning, these apps share what device you’re using, your Unique Device ID (UDID), screen resolution, keyboard languages, and how you’re connected to the web. These identifiers are commonly used for device fingerprinting. 

Companies (and others, like data brokers) use this technique to link together data about your activity from various sources (like different apps) to identify you. This gives them a more detailed look about your life, interests, and behavior. While it’s not illegal, unfortunately, this is one of the most invasive tracking methods used today.

Citizen Files Class Action Suit Against Apple in the US

Elliot Libman, an iPhone 13 owner from New York, has now filed a class action lawsuit against Apple following this news. Libman is accusing the company of making “utterly false” assurances when it claims users are in control of what information they share when they use its stock iPhone apps. In his lawsuit, Libman also claims Apple is in violation of the California Invasion of Privacy Act.

Screenshot of a class action suit against Apple over privacy violations
This class action lawsuit could redefine Apple’s image as a champion of privacy.

Apple hasn’t responded to any of these allegations or the lawsuit at the time of writing. Yet, if these allegations are true, the company may face serious backlash about its false advertising. Right now, it’s also impossible to tell how Apple is using all this data, although it’s not hard to venture a guess — seeing as the company is slowly building its own advertising superpower.

Tweet from Mysk about Apple's data gathering for Apple Arcade
Even though “No Ads” may sound privacy-forward, Apple still tracks you for ads on its other services.

In the past, Apple has also cost companies like Meta billions of dollars in revenue due to its privacy changes. Yet, while it earned public acclaim for “putting your privacy first”, Apple was merely denying other companies tracking data while hoarding valuable information for its own growing ad network.

Your Data is Valuable to Apple

Apple has built a niche for itself on the basis that it protects your data more than its competitors do. The company even introduced an app tracking blocker and a Lockdown Mode to show its dedication to privacy. These actions ring hollow if the company doesn’t actually follow through on its promises though.

Assuring iPhone owners that it will disable sharing their data altogether while secretly tracking their data anyway is a huge violation of privacy. If the company is capable of lying about this, it also puts its other claims at risk. 

These types of lies can have real-life consequences, too. Those who hope to use Apple’s new Lockdown Mode feature to avoid being targeted by government-sponsored cybersurveillance, for example, are in real danger if the feature doesn’t work as advertised.

Given that the company is also currently trying to expand its own advertising empire while trying to hobble competitors, it’s clear your data is valuable to Apple. And a company that aims to monetize your private information isn’t going to put your privacy first.

If your privacy is important to you, use devices and apps that back their claims with evidence. CyberGhost VPN’s No Logs policy isn’t just a bunch of words — we back it up with our quarterly Transparency Report and our RAM-only servers that don’t store any data.

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