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Apple Inc. (AAPL)’s New iMessage App Still Presents a Privacy Problem

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Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)‘s new iOS 10 update was recently made live.  The firm calls iOS 10 its “biggest release yet” and it includes a wide range of new features. But the most notable ones are a totally overhauled message experience and integration of Siri with third-party apps. There are also more uses for 3D Touch.

Other new features worth mentioning include: redesigned Maps, redesigned Apple News, redesigned Apple Music and richer notifications. Then there is a raise-to-wake function for iPhone SE and 6s or later models and Apple Pay for the web. The upgrade is available for iPhone 5, the fourth-generation iPad and the iPad Mini 2. It also targets the sixth-generation iPod Touch or later. Now, the ‘totally overhauled message experience’ is under the lens for privacy issues. It seems that messaging is not fully private. The firm does store some data about your messages for about a month. Let’s see what happened exactly.

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Apple iMessage App has a Privacy Problem

The police can’t read your iMessages, but let’s look at what they can see. The iPhone maker has made a big deal over the past few years about such issues. It claims that very little customer data is stored on its servers. But, that doesn’t mean the iPhone maker doesn’t have any information that police agencies can get their hands on. As noted by The Intercept, there is one thing that the firm knows.  It is the phone numbers a person is at least considering sending a message to. That’s because as soon as an iPhone owner types in a phone number, the firm’s servers are pinged. In turn, they determine whether the number represents another iOS device. If so, the firm will send any messages using its own service (they appear in a blue bubble). If not, the firm will send any messages as a standard text message (displayed in green).

That Apple’s servers would be pinged with every number a person is messaging should not come as a surprise. After all, how else would the iPhone know how to send the message? More of a revelation was the fact that Apple stores the information for 30 days. Choosing how to send messages is tricky and has caused Apple problems in the past. This is especially true for when a user switches from iPhone to Android. About three and a half years ago, Apple engineers started storing a cache of numbers. These were the same numbers customers were trying to message. It was done in order to help identify bugs and address customer complaints. This comes from a source familiar with the firm’s efforts.

Cellular Providers keep Even More Information

So what does all this mean? Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) still has far less information about its messages than a cellular provider has on its customers’ standard text messages. Carriers would likely be able to determine exactly what message was sent and when. They would also know where the customer was when they sent it. Apple, for its part, doesn’t appear to even know if a message was sent to a particular number. Neither does it seem to have details on any follow-up conversations. It would only know that at one point a number was typed into an iOS device. The iPhone maker has always said that it will share data it has access to with law enforcement agencies. Of course, this is subject to a lawful request, such as a warrant or other court order.

However, Apple has crowed about how little data it stores on its customers. Therefore, it’s definitely worth knowing what information it does keep. “Because iMessage is encrypted end-to-end, we do not have access to the contents of those communications,” Apple said. “In some cases, we are able to provide data from server logs that are generated from customers. This data is generated from users by accessing certain apps on their devices”. All this is a reminder that your message may be encrypted. But, it doesn’t mean that there are no digital breadcrumbs left behind.

But does this Matter to iOS 10?

We recently read about Apple luring developers to build apps around iMessage. With iOS devices accounting for about 70% of the firm’s revenue, an enriching iOS experience is critical for the firm. Indeed, software features are more important than ever, as the firm faces headwinds with product revenue growth. Apple’s iOS is a key component of the firm’s high customer-loyalty rates. It reinforces the strength of Apple’s robust ecosystem of hardware, products, and services. Of course, an exceptional mobile operating system was always expected from Apple, so this isn’t thesis-altering news. But it’s definitely an important piece of what gives Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) its staying power.

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