Twitter to track installed third-party apps on iOS with new app graph system

Posted:
in iPhone edited November 2014
Ubiquitous microblogging platform Twitter on Wednesday announced a new initiative called app graph, which looks to track the apps users have installed on their devices to suggest promoted content and potentially allow for enhanced timeline personalization.


Source: Twitter via Flickr


According to a post to Twitter's official support webpage, app graph only gathers a list of software installed on a user's device and does not collect data associated with those apps. However, for privacy advocates, as well as those averse to targeted ads, the new feature may be a cause for concern.

Twitter says app graph will help build a "tailored" experience for users, an example being improved "who to follow" suggestions. Other enhancements like adding tweets, accounts and general content to timelines seem more intrusive, while the inclusion of "relevant promoted content" is an obvious indication of app graph's value as an advertising tool.

Fortunately, Twitter is being transparent about how it plans to implement app graph, which will soon roll out to users. When the system is activated for a given account, a prompt is sent out notifying the account owner that "to help tailor your experience, Twitter uses the apps on your device." This alert will only appear when app graph is turned on.

Further, app graph will not collect apps for iOS device users who previously opted out of targeted ads by turning on Apple's "Limit Ad Tracking," located in the iOS Settings app under Settings > Privacy > Advertising. To use Twitter's system, users must first deactivate the Limit Ad Tracking feature.

For those who agree to app graph, but later want out, Twitter offers the following instructions to disable the system, which also deletes any previously gathered data:

In Twitter for iOS:
  1. From the Me tab, tap the gear icon
  2. Tap Settings.
  3. Tap the account you'd like to adjust.
  4. Under Privacy, you can adjust the setting to Tailor Twitter based on my apps.
Twitter did not mention when it plans to start activating app graph, but the feature can be expected to hit sometime soon given today's public notice.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 22
    WTF... This is the kind of shit I expect apps to do on Android junk, not on iOS devices!!!

    :mad:
  • Reply 2 of 22
    john.bjohn.b Posts: 2,714member
    What is the point of having a review process if Apple is going to allow this kind of spyware into the App store?
  • Reply 3 of 22
    How the f* is this even possible? This is total adware shit that I don't want on my phone.
  • Reply 4 of 22
    magman1979 wrote: »
    WTF... This is the kind of shit I expect apps to do on Android junk, not on iOS devices!!!

    :mad:

    Don't use Twitter. Problem solved.
  • Reply 5 of 22
    dysamoriadysamoria Posts: 1,739member
    Well, I'm extra glad I don't care about Twitter...
  • Reply 6 of 22
    What is the point of sandboxing in iOS if apps can violate their sandbox at will? It's nobody's business but my own what apps I have installed.
  • Reply 7 of 22
    rolsrols Posts: 48member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by CryhavocQ View Post



    What is the point of sandboxing in iOS if apps can violate their sandbox at will? It's nobody's business but my own what apps I have installed.

     

    I don't see how an app 'feature' like that possibly passes review. There's no method Apple makes available to get that information and anything using unpublished, private methods to do that should be subject to rejection. I would expect an update like this to be rejected. 

  • Reply 8 of 22
    rols wrote: »
    I don't see how an app 'feature' like that possibly passes review. There's no method Apple makes available to get that information and anything using unpublished, private methods to do that should be subject to rejection. I would expect an update like this to be rejected. 
    Not necessarily. The Good app does this too. My employer uses it to whitelist/blacklist authorized apps on employees' BYOD phones. I refuse to install it on principle. My employer does not need to know what apps are installed on my personal phone.
  • Reply 9 of 22
    sockrolidsockrolid Posts: 2,788member

    Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

    Twitter did not mention when it plans to start activating app graph, but the feature can be expected to hit sometime soon given today's public notice.

     

    #DickBar2.0

  • Reply 10 of 22
    poochpooch Posts: 768member
    For those who agree to app graph, but later want out, Twitter offers the following instructions to disable the system, which also deletes any previously gathered data:

    riiiiiight. won't believe it even if dick costolo his bad self writes that down in front of me and pinkie swears it.
  • Reply 11 of 22
    Apple should allow AdBlock for iOS not just in Safari but blocks Ads in all apps.
  • Reply 12 of 22
    slurpyslurpy Posts: 5,022member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by John.B View Post



    What is the point of having a review process if Apple is going to allow this kind of spyware into the App store?

     

    What the **** are you talking about, since this feature isn't even implemented yet, so obviously Apple didn't "allow" anything. 

  • Reply 13 of 22
    Wait... What???

    An APP!! (and non Apple at that) has such deep access to MY OS that it can tell what apps (competing and otherwise) I have installed?

    How is this not SPYWARE???

    And crap like this is why I don't activate the Facebook and Twitter apps on my phone.

    Apple needs to reject this.

    Otherwise all the claims Tim cook recently made about privacy just sounds extremely hollow.
  • Reply 14 of 22

    #TwitterGate is 3....2...

  • Reply 15 of 22
    Don't use Twitter. Problem solved.
    Brilliant advice /s

    Now how about you go tell that to SMB's who depend on mediums like Twitter to run social marketing campaigns for their business and brand awareness? I'm sure they'd tell you to keep that kind of stupid advice to yourself.

    Better advice would've been to use a different Twitter client!
  • Reply 16 of 22
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by CryhavocQ View Post





    Not necessarily. The Good app does this too. My employer uses it to whitelist/blacklist authorized apps on employees' BYOD phones. I refuse to install it on principle. My employer does not need to know what apps are installed on my personal phone.

    Never seen that one - is that an Appstore App or an Enterprise install type App? Enterprise Apps are subject to looser restrictions, you can use private APIs and poke around in the device a little more. 

     

    This gets discussed on the developer forums quite often, couple of times a month someone asks how they can get a list of all the apps on the device for <insert purpose here> and every time they're told there's no Apple public methods to do that and apps which manage to work around it will be rejected. I'm sure some slip through, the review process is fairly random but for an app like Twitter when they've announced what they're up to, I can't see how Apple's review team could do anything but reject it on several grounds. 

     

    Opening a bag of popcorn and waiting to see what actually happens next. 

  • Reply 17 of 22
    john.bjohn.b Posts: 2,714member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Slurpy View Post

     
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by John.B View Post



    What is the point of having a review process if Apple is going to allow this kind of spyware into the App store?

     

    What the **** are you talking about, since this feature isn't even implemented yet, so obviously Apple didn't "allow" anything. 


     

    According to the Twitter support page linked above, this is a fait accompli, it's just a matter of one of Jack Dorsey's minions flipping a switch.  They even list steps for iOS devices they claim will disable the feature (opt out, naturally).  Assuming you trust them at their word. 

     

    I guess we know now why Twitter is working so hard to kill off 3rd party Twitter apps...

     

    Regardless, my original premise stands:  If a high profile app development team was able to sneak something like this under the App Store review radar, why have a review process in the first place?

  • Reply 18 of 22
    richlrichl Posts: 2,213member

    I can only think of two ways that this could have been implemented: (i) searching through a known list of app URL schemes (slow, limited) or (ii) using a private API that Apple has given Twitter access to.

     

    So what's the best third-party Twitter app on iOS? 

  • Reply 19 of 22
    rolsrols Posts: 48member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by RichL View Post

     

    I can only think of two ways that this could have been implemented: (i) searching through a known list of app URL schemes (slow, limited) or (ii) using a private API that Apple has given Twitter access to.

     

    So what's the best third-party Twitter app on iOS? 


     

    The app URL scheme code has been around for a while, but it's not particularly good. You can do some limited inspection of what processes are running using some standard C calls, but that only tells you what's currently running/sleeping.

     

    I don't see why Apple would go giving them a private API for such an egregious breach of privacy but that doesn't mean they didn't manage to find one, there's lots of private APIs you can find with some amount of effort. There is an API point for getting the installed app list but it's restricted to MDM implementers and Twitter isn't one and these aren't managed devices, so it shouldn't be available to be called. 

     

    The iOS implementation may not be particularly good, unless they have uncovered some private methods which give the whole list, in which case they are definitely in violation of the developer rules, using things like URL schemes is going to give pretty poor results and certainly nothing like the list of all installed apps. Either way this really feels like something an app shouldn't be doing. 

  • Reply 20 of 22
    asciiascii Posts: 5,778member

    I'm pretty sure Apple will block this. Enumerating the other apps on your phone goes against the intention of the sandbox, even if they have found some way around it. And that same intention will presumably manifest in the review process.

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