US congressmen send letter to Apple inquiring about iOS address book security

Posted:
in iPhone edited January 2014


Following a controversy surrounding the iPhone social networking application "Path," two members of the U.S. Congress have sent a letter to Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook seeking answers on the security of user address books and contacts stored on iOS devices.



Reps. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) and Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) issued the letter to Cook on Wednesday, questioning whether Apple's iOS application developer policies and practices adequately protect consumer privacy.



The letter follows a controversy that arose earlier this month when social networking application "Path" was revealed to be uploading users' address books to its servers without asking for permission. The activity was discovered and publicized by developer Arun Thampi.



Last week, Path offered a public apology for its activities, and modified its software so that users could opt out of the address book upload. The company said the data was used to streamline the application's "Add Friends" feature, and not to collect sensitive information.



The letter from Waxman and Butterfield has requested Apple's response to nine questions. They pertain to user security and how Apple defines whether an application is suitable for users to download to their iPhone.



The government questioning is similar to a separate incident from last year, when a U.S. senator and congressman pushed Apple for answers about a location database controversy that arose. The issue gained attention after security researchers discovered a database file in iOS 4 that stored a large amount of location data representing cellular towers and Wi-Fi hotspots accessed by an iPhone.



Apple explained that the location database file was intended to improve location tracking services on the iPhone, but the size of the file grew to be large because of a programming glitch. The issue was quickly resolved with a software update.



The latest issue is not a result of a glitch in the iOS operating system, but a feature that Apple allows to developers that could potentially be abused. The congressmen are concerned that other applications are uploading users' address book information without their knowledge. The full letter is included below:

Quote:

February 15, 2012

Mr. Tim Cook

Chief Executive Officer, Apple Inc.

1 Infinite Loop

Cupertino, CA 95014



Dear Mr. Cook:

Last week, independent iOS app developer Arun Thampi blogged about his discovery that the social networking app “Path” was accessing and collecting the contents of his iPhone address book without ever having asked for his consent. The information taken without his permission – or that of the individual contacts who own that information – included full names, phone numbers, and email addresses. Following media coverage of Mr. Thampi’s discovery, Path’s Co-Founder and CEO Dave Morin quickly apologized, promised to delete from Path’s servers all data it had taken from its users’ address books, and announced the release of a new version of Path that would prompt users to opt in to sharing their address book contacts.



This incident raises questions about whether Apple’s iOS app developer policies and practices may fall short when it comes to protecting the information of iPhone users and their contacts.



The data management section of your iOS developer website states: “iOS has a comprehensive collection of tools and frameworks for storing, accessing, and sharing data. . . . iOS apps even have access to a device’s global data such as contacts in the Address Book, and photos in the Photo Library.” The app store review guidelines section states: “We review every app on the App Store based on a set of technical, content, and design criteria. This review criteria is now available to you in the App Store Review Guidelines.” This same section indicates that the guidelines are available only to registered members of the iOS Developer Program. However, tech blogs following the Path controversy indicate that the iOS App Guidelines require apps to get a user’s permission before “transmit[ting] data about a user”.



In spite of this guidance, claims have been made that “there’s a quiet understanding among many iOS app developers that it is acceptable to send a user’s entire address book, without their permission, to remote servers and then store it for future reference. It’s common practice, and many companies likely have your address book stored in their database.” One blogger claims to have conducted a survey of developers of popular iOS apps and found that 13 of 15 had a “contacts database with millions of records” – with one claiming to have a database containing “Mark Zuckerberg's cell phone number, Larry Ellison’s home phone number and Bill Gates’ cell phone number.”



The fact that the previous version of Path was able to gain approval for distribution through the Apple iTunes Store despite taking the contents of users’ address books without their permission suggests that there could be some truth to these claims. To more fully understand and assess these claims, we are requesting that you respond to the following questions:

\t1. Please describe all iOS App Guidelines that concern criteria related to the privacy and security of data that will be accessed or transmitted by an app.

\t2. Please describe how you determine whether an app meets those criteria.

\t3. What data do you consider to be “data about a user” that is subject to the requirement that the app obtain the user’s consent before it is transmitted?

\t4. To the extent not addressed in the response to question 2, please describe how you determine whether an app will transmit “data about a user” and whether the consent requirement has been met.

\t5. How many iOS apps in the U.S. iTunes Store transmit “data about a user”?

\t6. Do you consider the contents of the address book to be “data about a user”?

\t7. Do you consider the contents of the address book to be data of the contact? If not, please explain why not. Please explain how you protect the privacy and security interests of that contact in his or her information.

\t8. How many iOS apps in the U.S. iTunes Store transmit information from the address book? How many of those ask for the user’s consent before transmitting their contacts’ information?

\t9. You have built into your devices the ability to turn off in one place the transmission of location information entirely or on an app-by-app basis. Please explain why you have not done the same for address book information.



Please provide the information requested no later than February 29, 2012. If you have any questions regarding this request, you can contact Felipe Mendoza with the Energy and Commerce Committee Staff at 202-226-3400.





Sincerely,



Henry A. Waxman

Ranking Member



G.K. Butterfield

Ranking Member



Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade





cc: Dave Morin

Path, Co-Founder and CEO



[ View article on AppleInsider ]

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Comments

  • red oakred oak Posts: 541member
    Clowns. F***** attention seeking clowns
  • sector7gsector7g Posts: 148member
    if they really cared about address book security they should be looking into android and apps that send there data to china
  • satoricalsatorical Posts: 60member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Red Oak View Post


    Clowns. F***** attention seeking clowns



    Pretty much. Did you see what they were requesting? They need to RTFM. They may have legitimate questions, but this is one ham-fisted way to go about it.
  • solipsismxsolipsismx Posts: 19,566member
    1) And yet without any security or accountability in place for Android they simply don't care unless it's regarding an Apple product. Android is winning¡



    2) Apple really needs to make this an item in Settings like Location Data that shows you what apps have access to your Address Book or other sensitive parts of your personal info. While Path now asks you permission this should not be up to the developer but built-in protection from Apple. I blame Apple here.



    3) Do they get full access to your Address Book, including notes because I put a lot of personal data into notes.
  • capoeira4ucapoeira4u Posts: 160member
    This is stupid. He should have written to Microsoft and Google instead.
  • thataveragejoethataveragejoe Posts: 830member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Sector7G View Post


    if they really cared about address book security they should be looking into android and apps that send there data to china



    That's pure deflection of the iOS issue at hand. Android apps also UP FRONT on installation tell you which permissions the app will be using, including the address book. If you don't read and just accept and continue that's your problem.
  • thataveragejoethataveragejoe Posts: 830member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post


    1) And yet without any security or accountability in place for Android they simply don't care unless it's regarding an Apple product. Android is winning¡



    Boohoo. This has nothing to do with Android, WP7, webOS, RIM or anyone else. That's a typical deflection argument when something is wrong and you want to avoid an uncomfortable topic. Android at least tells you on app installation what it's using including the address book.



    Quote:

    2) Apple really needs to make this an item in Settings like Location Data that shows you what apps have access to your Address Book or other sensitive parts of your personal info. While Path now asks you permission this should not be up to the developer but built-in protection from Apple. I blame Apple here.



    That is the crux of the whole issue. Well said.
  • sector7gsector7g Posts: 148member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by thataveragejoe View Post


    That's pure deflection of the iOS issue at hand. Android apps also UP FRONT on installation tell you which permissions the app will be using, including the address book. If you don't read and just accept and continue that's your problem.



    then in this case all apple needs its a little message which says your data can be transmitted . no i think its more about the security of the data and android phones have had real breaches, that should be there concern
  • thataveragejoethataveragejoe Posts: 830member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Sector7G View Post


    then in this case all apple needs its a little message which says your data can be transmitted . no i think its more about the security of the data and android phones have had real breaches, that should be there concern



    Nothing about this story/article has ANYTHING to do with Android. Bringing it up is simply trolling. This letter is just a publicity stunt and overblown, but there still is an issue that should be addressed.
  • sector7gsector7g Posts: 148member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by thataveragejoe View Post


    Nothing about this story/article has ANYTHING to do with Android. Bringing it up is simply trolling. This letter is just a publicity stunt and overblown, but there still is an issue that should be addressed.



    yeah its a publicity stunt, because the real danger is with the addresses stored on android phones, and having a option on this forum is not trolling, just admit your post was worthless
  • gustavgustav Posts: 803member
    And once again, everyone forgets that this could happen on their Macs and PCs for decades.



    Anyone could write a desktop app that sends your outlook db to a server, or your address book database.
  • thataveragejoethataveragejoe Posts: 830member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Sector7G View Post


    because the real danger is with the addresses stored on android phones



    Source? Proof? Relevant to an iOS issue and letter to Apple only how?



    ...what I thought. Case closed.
  • blurpbleepbloopblurpbleepbloop Posts: 58member
    Let's see..about 20 years of widespread internet usage where at any time, a desktop application could upload any portion of a user's hard drive contents - still true today, btw, and now you clowns think that there needs to be a security lock on the address book? GFR!



    Do you know how many productivity apps rely on the shared address book? (clue: it's a lot)



    This is why you don't download and run just any piece of software. Use your head.



    -Bloop
  • curmudgeoncurmudgeon Posts: 483member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Satorical View Post


    Pretty much. Did you see what they were requesting? They need to RTFM. They may have legitimate questions, but this is one ham-fisted way to go about it.



    But is this really the job of Congress? Perhaps the DoJ, but Congress? Don't they have more important things to worry about? Like actually passing a budget? It's been over a 1000+ days since the Senate passed a budget.
  • tallest skiltallest skil Posts: 40,379member
    From the desk of Tim Cook

    Apple Inc.

    1 Infinite Loop



    Dear Henry,



    1. No.

    2. No.

    3. Just read our rules.

    4. No.

    5. Plenty.

    6. What do you think?

    7. What do you think?

    8. So you need to know this why?

    9. Because we give our developers the benefit of the doubt that they won't be worthless idiots.



    Sincerely,



    Tim Cook
  • curmudgeoncurmudgeon Posts: 483member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by thataveragejoe View Post


    Nothing about this story/article has ANYTHING to do with Android. Bringing it up is simply trolling. This letter is just a publicity stunt and overblown, but there still is an issue that should be addressed.



    No sure I agree with this statement. I think if a company is being singled out, then it's OK to notice and comment about it.
  • sector7gsector7g Posts: 148member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by thataveragejoe View Post


    Source? Proof? Relevant to an iOS issue and letter to Apple only how?



    ...what I thought. Case closed.



    what type of retard are you calling it case closed before i had time to reply? you're really trying scrambling to not look like a complete fool you've made of yourself



    heres a link of proof



    http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/articles/25...discovered.htm
  • slurpyslurpy Posts: 4,537member




    I see the Foxconn thing has run it's course, and this is the new flavor of the day. NEXT.
  • anantksundaramanantksundaram Posts: 16,993member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by capoeira4u View Post


    This is stupid. He should have written to Microsoft and Google instead.



    How do you know they didn't?
  • thataveragejoethataveragejoe Posts: 830member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Sector7G View Post


    what type of retard are you calling it case closed before i had time to reply? you're really trying scrambling to not look like a complete fool you've made of yourself



    heres a link of proof



    http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/articles/25...discovered.htm



    "IEEE went on to suggest that the high number of infected apps and smartphones was a consequence of a lack of understanding by the public regarding cyber-security."



    Yes, we all know there's supposedly bad apps out there...if you sideload suspicious apps (not in Google Market), bypass security, ignore warnings, and run them anyway you'll (may) be infected. Ingenious. Same could be said for PC malware. Where's the outrage of users of stolen info? Where are big app developers like Path surprised they ended up with all this unexpected user data? Don't see any. No one's denying there's potential security risks to an open app pool instead of something like the AppStore. Point is, two issues are nothing alike.



    Actually the Verge summed up this whole thing pretty well.

    http://www.theverge.com/2012/2/14/27...u-need-to-know
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