Apple seeks to allay concerns over Yosemite Spotlight data collection

Apple is ruffling features by collecting search and location data from OS X Yosemite users through Spotlight features that some argue should be off by default.

Apple's quest to be known as a company that makes products with built-in privacy hit another snag on Monday amid concern over query and location data it's collecting through Spotlight in iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite.

Spotlight for OS X Yosemite, as reported in the Washington Post on Monday, contains a little surprise for users, with the search tool now sending queries and location data to Apple. And thanks to a deal between Microsoft and Apple to display Bing results in Spotlight, it's also sending some data to Microsoft.

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The feature update has annoyed some users, including developer Landon Fuller, who posted details at fix-macosx.com on how to restore privacy in OS X, chiefly by disabling several Spotlight settings in not just Spotlight but Apple's Safari browser too.

While Apple does outline Spotlight's new features in its documentation, Fuller doesn't like that the potentially invasive features are on by default — which he considers a break from past versions of OS X. 

Apple explains in its "about" section for Spotlight that search queries and any Spotlight suggestions it offers are sent to Apple, while search results are not. Apple will also collect a user's location when users make a search and location data is on.

In response to the kerfuffle over the privacy implications of the feature, it's also published a separate support note explaining how to deactivate the features.

Apple issued a statement to iMore outlining that it doesn't retain the IP addresses of users' devices and "blurs" the location of the device so that Apple doesn't see the exact location. Also, the device identifier it does collect changes every 15 minutes, preventing it or third-parties from creating a profile based on search history. It also clarified that Apple only forwards commonly searched terms and city-level location information to Bing, while Microsoft doesn't store search queries or receive a user's IP address.

The company explains as much in its page about built-in privacy, pointing out that before Spotlight provides suggestions, it "considers things like context and location while protecting your privacy by using an anonymous identifier that refreshes every 15 minutes. You can always opt out of Suggestions and continue to use Spotlight solely for local search on your device."

Apple has attempted to distinguish itself from rivals, in particular Google, by claiming its business doesn't rely much on the collection of user data for advertising. It's also stepped up that messaging in response to concerns its products have backdoors and that it works with government agencies — a concern that held up the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus launch in China as regulators there extracted promises from Apple that its device was not a security and privacy risk. The third major privacy issue it's faced in recent months, of course, is Celebgate .

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