Apple’s Yosemite Spotlight Snoops on Your Location


yosemite spotlight snoop

Here we go again with privacy issues, and advocates are already up in arms about the recently discovered problem that Yosemite’s Spotlight snoops on your location. That basically means that whatever search you do using Spotlight, your location data goes to Apple servers, which we know can be compromised.

yosemite spotlight snoop

Source

Worse, the very same data the Spotlight mines is also passed on to Microsoft. While Apple’s Terms of Service does mention this fact, I bet majority of users do not read the whole thing. TL;DR and all that.

The good news is that there is a simple fix to this problem. Landon Fuller, a software developer has kindly created a web site for Apple users. This website, fix macosx, gives easy-to-follow instructions on how to deal with the privacy issue. To quote:

  • Disable “Spotlight Suggestions” and “Bing Web Searches” in System Preferences > Spotlight > Search Results.
  • Safari also has a “Spotlight Suggestions” setting that is separate from Spotlight’s “Spotlight Suggestions”. This uses the same mechanism as Spotlight, and if left enabled, Safari will send a copy of all search queries to Apple.You’d be forgiven for thinking that you’d already disabled “Spotlight Suggestions”, but you’ll also need to uncheck “Include Spotlight Suggestions” in Safari > Preferences > Search.

It is important to realize that your computer is not the only one that can be compromised by this issue. Your mobile devices running on iOS 8 are also leaking location data whenever you do searches. The same website by Fuller gives further instructions on how to fix this.

While there is an easy fix, thanks to developers who are quick on the draw, this raises questions about Apple’s commitment to protecting the privacy of its users. Tim Cook has explicitly stated their stand and adherence to privacy measures, but his words don’t match what’s happening in reality.

Do you care about this most recent privacy issue?

More on Yosemite and iOS:

5 New Features in OS X Yosemite that Will Help You Be More Productive
Why iOS 8 Failed to Impress

Noemi

Freelance writer; digital hobo; professional nap-taker; wannabe beach bum; seeker. SHINY!

3 Comments

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  1. While the headline characterizes the Spotlight feature as “snooping”, the goal is not to spy on you but rather to provide relevant suggestions based on your location. This can save you the trouble of having to go to a mapping website before doing certain searches.

    This was an informative article. It’s important to understand the tradeoffs in privacy versus functionality, and to know how to maximize privacy if that is your priority.

    My personal feeling is that location privacy should be more easily toggled without having to go to System Prefernces.

  2. This story has already been debunked by The Verge and Apple.

    It is hardy Snooping as your click bait headline suggests.

    From Apple, Yuu know the part of the memo you choose NOT to publish

    “For Spotlight Suggestions we minimize the amount of information sent to Apple. Apple doesn’t retain IP addresses from users’ devices. Spotlight blurs the location on the device so it never sends an exact location to Apple. Spotlight doesn’t use a persistent identifier, so a user’s search history can’t be created by Apple or anyone else. Apple devices only use a temporary anonymous session ID for a 15-minute period before the ID is discarded.”

    I am deleting your site from my RSS feed for shoddy reporting.