updated 09:35 am EST, Mon November 19, 2007
Apple tracking iPhones?
(Updated with link to debunking claims)
Apple is keeping abnormal watch on the identity of iPhones making use of online services, some hackers suggest. Buried within the binaries for the Stocks and Weather widgets is code that hands over a user's IMEI number -- the unique identifier for each phone. While IMEI numbers are common to all GSM cellphones, and are regularly used to authorize presence on a network, they are normally unneeded for accessing individual web services. Furthermore, it is impossible to modify the binaries' URLs to omit IMEI data and still retrieve any data from the widgets.
Why the information would be needed is unknown, but proposed reasons include the likes of targeted advertising, consumer research, or guarding against unauthorized devices. It is reportedly very easy to spoof an IMEI number however, by using a hex editor to replace the variables in the URLs with any two-digit number, such as 00.
Unusually, a similar URL appears in code for iPod touch applications, and even the Mac OS X Leopard version of Calculator. Neither platform has an IMEI number to transmit, which suggests that Apple is sharing the same general code base between all recent versions of Mac OS. Those concerned about tracking desktop OS connections can reportedly keep watch with programs such as Little Snitch.
Update: A German publication now says that privacy concerns are unfounded.