Apple could discontinue the use of permanent tracking codes, which collect information about user location and transactions, in coming generations of iPhone and iPad devices. It has been reported that Apple advised software developers to stop using User Device Identifiers for the iOS 5 mobile operating system that will be included on the iPhone 5 that will debut this fall.
A UDID is a specific number combination that’s programmed into a device and allows the device to be identified uniquely. A device’s UDID number has the capability of tracking user information, such as location, transactions, and music and application downloads. The unique identifiers are designed to allow location-based apps and mobile games to recognize information about a user but also are used to market specific apps that are tailored to each user via Apple’s iAds program.
One of the biggest concerns about the use of UDIDs is the type of personal information that’s collected and how that information could be utilized. Unlike Web-tracking cookies—which a user can delete—a UDID is embedded permanently into a device. Therefore, users have no say over the collection of their information or over how third parties could use their information.
Since UDIDs are embedded in mobile devices, they have the ability to track and store information on a user’s whereabouts, downloads and mobile interactions throughout the day.
Consumer advocacy groups, including Center for Democracy & Technology, have raised concerns about the use of UDIDs. Justin Brookman, who is the director of CDT, believes that Apple’s decision to discontinue the use of UDIDs is a step in the right direction.
Brookman says that legislation regarding consumers’ online privacy has been introduced in Congress. Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and John McCain, R-Ariz., introduced the bipartisan Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights Act of 2011, which would allow Internet users to opt out of a company’s collection of personal data. Brookman says that this bill is the most comprehensive online-privacy-rights bill that has been introduced thus far and therefore believes that it could be supported. Though Congress is in recess, he wants to see legislators focus on the bill again in the fall, but is uncertain of the bill’s likelihood to move forward.
The concerns about personal-data collection that public advocacy groups and legislators raised might have influenced Apple’s decision to discontinue using UDIDs “because there is so much heat on it,” says Ryan Singel, who is a staff writer for Wired magazine and who wrote ‘Identity Crisis: How Your Privacy Is Invaded on The Internet,’ for Consumers Digest’s September/October 2011 issue.
Singel says that another possible reason why Apple is discontinuing the use of UDIDs is to reduce any negative impact on its future sales. Although tracking protocol won’t be done away with completely, he believes that this is a good opportunity for Apple and developers to find a less invasive alternative to carry out mobile-app communications. He suggested that developers might turn to cookie-like trackers that consumers could remove.
“This is a good change,” Singel says. “Developers will have to find new ways to keep track of users.”
– K. Fanuko