For all of Apple’s talk about how private your iPhone is, the company vacuums up a lot of data about you. iPhones do have a privacy setting that is supposed to turn off that tracking. According to a new report by independent researchers, though, Apple collects extremely detailed information on you with its own apps even when you turn off tracking, an apparent direct contradiction of Apple’s own description of how the privacy protection works.
The iPhone Analytics setting makes an explicit promise. Turn it off, and Apple says that it will “disable the sharing of Device Analytics altogether.” However, Tommy Mysk and Talal Haj Bakry, two app developers and security researchers at the software company Mysk, took a look at the data collected by a number of Apple iPhone apps—the App Store, Apple Music, Apple TV, Books, and Stocks. They found the analytics control and other privacy settings had no obvious effect on Apple’s data collection—the tracking remained the same whether iPhone Analytics was switched on or off.
The App Store appeared to harvest information about every single thing you did in real time, including what you tapped on, which apps you search for, what ads you saw, and how long you looked at a given app and how you found it. The app sent details about you and your device as well, including ID numbers, what kind of phone you’re using, your screen resolution, your keyboard languages, how you’re connected to the internet—notably, the kind of information commonly used for device fingerprinting.
“Opting-out or switching the personalization options off did not reduce the amount of detailed analytics that the app was sending,” Mysk said. “I switched all the possible options off, namely personalized ads, personalized recommendations, and sharing usage data and analytics.”
Apple did not respond to multiple requests for comment. We’ll update the story with any information the company provides.
Gizmodo requested that Mysk examine a few other Apple apps for comparison. The researchers said that the Health and Wallet apps, for example, didn’t transmit any analytics data at all, regardless of whether the iPhone Analytics setting was on or off, whereas Apple Music, Apple TV, Books, the iTunes Store, and Stocks all did. Most of the apps that sent analytics data shared consistent ID numbers, which would allow Apple to track your activity across its services, the researchers found.