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Apple has for a long time touted its privacy credentials. Its refusal to help the FBI Apple Refuses to Help the FBI, Popcorn Time Returns... [Tech News Digest] Apple Refuses to Help the FBI, Popcorn Time Returns... [Tech News Digest] Apple stands up for personal privacy, the original Popcorn Time gets resurrected, Kanye West learns the price of piracy, Sega gives games away on Steam, and play Pong on your Apple Watch. Read More unlock San Bernadino gunman Syed Rizwan Farook’s iPhone being a prime example. However, those privacy credentials have taken a knock with the revelation that Apple logs your iMessage contacts.

According to The Intercept, the Messaging app communicates with Apple’s servers every time you contact someone. This helps to determine whether or not that person is also using Apple’s proprietary messaging system.

If they are a fellow Apple user, your communications will take place via iMessage, complete with blue bubbles. If they’re using a non-Apple device, your communications will take place via SMS, complete with green bubbles Does Apple Use Green Bubbles to Make You Hate Android Users? Does Apple Use Green Bubbles to Make You Hate Android Users? Blue bubbles and green bubbles might seem like a small distinction, but to thousands of Twitter users they aren't. Let's look at this phenomenon. Read More .

Apple logs this data, along with the date and time, and your IP address. This data is then retained for 30 days, during which time law enforcement officers can request access to it. If such a request is made, Apple is compelled to turn the data over, revealing who you may have been in contact with during the previous month.

Apple Defends the Turning Over of Metadata

This revelation came from a document sourced from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Electronic Surveillance Support Team. Apple issued a statement which seemed to confirm the basic facts but still defended the practice:

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“When law enforcement presents us with a valid subpoena or court order, we provide the requested information if it is in our possession. Because iMessage is encrypted end-to-end, we do not have access to the contents of those communications.”

“We work closely with law enforcement to help them understand what we can provide and make clear these query logs don’t contain the contents of conversations or prove that any communication actually took place.”

It’s heartening to know Apple isn’t keeping track of the actual contents of the messages sent through iMessage. But this still dents Apple’s reputation as the custodian of its users’ privacy.

Does this information surprise you? Or dishearten you? Do you assume everything you say and do on your phone is logged anyway? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

Image Credit: Jan Persiel via Flickr

  1. Gary
    September 29, 2016 at 3:01 pm

    This is not surprising at all. iMessage ans SMS are both connection oriented systems, meaning, in order for the transaction to take place, both parties must be connected and available. Since iMessage is an Apple proprietary product, it makes sense that they would need to know who uses the system. If one user is not and it has to go through SMS, it makes sense Apple would need to know that the message was transferred to that service.
    The question then becomes, why keep the metadata? Well, if is a user is complaining that his messages aren't going through, Apple needs some amount of data to go back and check the logs to see what went through and what didn't so they can correct the problem, even if it is a user issue.
    I think 30 days is a good maximum length of time to keep this data. I'm sure the phone companies keep the same type of metadata for about the same length of time. It would surprise me if the other companies did not keep metadata for troubleshooting reasons.
    Now, since this is data that is subject to a search warrant, it also makes sense that if given a warrant, Apple would turn over the metadata. As Apple stated, they can't give the contents of the message since the contents are encrypted. And Apple can't guarantee the communication took place; although, I can't think of any reason why my phone would randomly make a connection to another phone via iMessage or SMS unless one of us initiated it and sent something, even if it's a blank message. (Yes, a blank message is still communication. It could be something agreed upon earlier.)
    In the words of Frank Drebin, "move along, folks. Nothing to see here."

    • Dave Parrack
      October 4, 2016 at 10:55 am

      This is probably par for the course, and to be expected. However, it's newsworthy because of Apple promoting itself as the warden of your privacy. It had a very public disagreement with the FBI over unlocking the iPhone belonging to the San Bernadino gunman, so the ease with which it hands over this data will shock many people.

  2. Denise
    September 29, 2016 at 2:52 pm

    I do not want anyone intruding on my conversations. Not that I'm hiding anything but it should be my right to be able to hold a conversation especially when paying for the service without someone else reading my texts.

  3. Mimi Lane
    September 29, 2016 at 2:30 pm

    Not surprised at all and it doesn't bother me in the least. I think we should be careful of what we say online.

    • Angela Montenegro
      September 29, 2016 at 3:15 pm

      This is no different than doing a phone dump through your wireless carrier, which no one has been complaining about as long as it is preceded by a warrant. What law enforcement gets is not what was said via Messages or text, only that there was a communication between two specific phone numbers (or more for a text chain) at a certain time. The encryption makes it impossible to know what was said unless you or the other person in the conversation still have it, so if someone is dumb enough to break the law and keep a record of the conversation about it in your texts, then know it is a way that you can get caught.

    • Dave Parrack
      October 4, 2016 at 10:57 am

      In this day and age everything you say online can and will be used against you in some way. So your advice to be careful at all times is solid. The problem here is law enforcement could use the very fact you've been in contact with someone to build a case against you, without even knowing what you've said to them.

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