New Mac OS Feature Raises Privacy Concerns

Is your Mac “phoning home”?

That’s the question some Apple users are asking after installing an updated version of the company’s Mac OS X—Version 10.4.7—that aims to help authenticate desktop widgets. According to at least one blog, Apple’s efforts to help identify and validate end users’ desktop widgets may have also introduced a new privacy-related issue.

Widgets are lightweight desktop programs running, in this case, on the Mac OS that can be tailored to provide end users with different types of information. Common applications include links to weather pages or to specific sites such as CNN or MySpace.

Apple’s Dashboard Advisory, another security feature in the recent update, was designed to ensure that the widgets users download are legitimate and authorized by the company that created them.

In a discussion on the Red Sweater blog site, some Mac users expressed concern that Apple had begun to collect information about its customers without them knowing about it.

Click here to read more about the improvements in the Mac OS X 10.4.7 release.

“Apple released Mac OS X 10.4.7 last week, and ever since I installed it, I’ve been noticing Apple’s own modest home phoning behavior,” wrote one blogger on July 3.

Another blogger wrote that there doesn’t seem to be “much harm in this contact,” but that “Apple should ask the user, or at least make the phoning home clear in its license.”

A third writer questioned the purpose of the contact: “Apart from the phoning home, I wonder what the theory behind this ‘service’ is—to tell us about ‘evil’ widgets? If yes, who determines which widgets are evil?”

The debate about Mac OS comes at a sensitive time as IT vendors’ efforts to track online computing activity, particularly without giving warnings, are raising users’ ire and triggering legal action.

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