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Cellphones Privacy

Retrievable iPhone Numbers Raise Privacy Issue 146

Posted by kdawson
from the how-about-never-is-never-good-for-you dept.
TechnologyResource writes "When a couple of voicemails didn't show up recently, I thought nothing of it until a friend asked me if I'd gotten his message — people just don't call me that often. But the iPhone is indeed a phone, as some users are reportedly being reminded when they get phone calls from the publishers of a free app they've downloaded from the App Store. The application in question, mogoRoad, is a real-time traffic monitoring application. As invasive and despicable as that sounds, it raises another question: how did the company get hold of the contact information for those users? Mogo claims the details were provided by Apple, but Apple doesn't disclose that information to App Store vendors. French site Mac 4 Ever did some digging (scroll down for the English version) and determined it was possible — even easy — for an app to retrieve the phone number of a unit on which it was installed."
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Retrievable iPhone Numbers Raise Privacy Issue

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  • So (Score:1, Redundant)

    by sopssa (1498795) *

    as some users are reportedly being reminded when they get phone calls from the publishers of a free app they've downloaded from the App Store.

    This was an interesting bit that wasn't explained anywhere in the article. What kind of phone calls they get? Asking for user feedback of the app, marketing other products (maybe on other platforms)? Late night drunk calls?

    But for that matter, I've always though that phone apps have access to your number anyway. It just makes sense, same way that PC apps have access to your IP address and other personal data saved on the machine.

    Not that it's that bad anyway. Many kind of software need better access to the

    • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

      As a side note, most of us probably think that "real-time traffic monitoring application" refers to internet traffic.

      Obviously this is OT, but ... wouldn't the context of an iPhone imply road traffic monitoring not network? hehe.

    • Re:So (Score:5, Informative)

      by tonywong (96839) on Tuesday September 29, 2009 @05:17PM (#29585643) Homepage
      I'd mod you down for not even bothering to RTFA, but claiming that it didn't say what the calls were about is a bit disingenuous.

      From the very first link:
      Several commenters on the store say theyâ€(TM)ve received phone calls from the company behind the application after they downloaded the free version, inviting them to shell out money for the full version.
    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Generally something that has "road" in its name or description is about roads, so a traffic monitoring program with "road" in its name is somewhat obviously about road traffic.
      • by sopssa (1498795) *

        You might like to take a look at the names that PC apps have too. Sometimes the name is completely off from the actual usage of the app, or is some twist to refer computer thing to a real world "equivalent"

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sadness203 (1539377)
      It's more akin to a PC apps getting your e-mail address and sending you spam.
      With an IP address, there's not a lot of thing a publisher could do, except if it want to build a botnet.
    • by Ritchie70 (860516)

      I have to agree.

      I would have assumed an iPhone app could access the phone's basic configuration.

      It's just bad manners on the part of the app vendor to call for anything short of some sort of emergency.

      Of course, as they say, there's no such thing as a free lunch. Looks like that applies to free apps too.

    • by z0idberg (888892)

      But for that matter, I've always though that phone apps have access to your number anyway. It just makes sense, same way that PC apps have access to your IP address and other personal data saved on the machine.

      In my opinion a smart phone is a phone AND its also a computer/internet portal, not the two combined. There is no reason for the two to be linked or to share information. It's more like your PC apps having access to your IP address and also your street address (or even your home phone number). The two don't need to be (and shouldn't be) linked.

      Sure it is possible to link the two together if needed by law enforcement or something, but it definitely shouldn't be available all the time.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by BattleApple (956701)
      Just because an app needs access to your phone number doesn't mean the developer needs access to it.
    • by mgblst (80109)

      iPhone Apps have access to your number, and every single number in your contact database, as well as all there details like names. They could easily get this information as well.

      I expect Apple will kick these guys off of the app store pretty quick.

    • as some users are reportedly being reminded when they get phone calls from the publishers of a free app they've downloaded from the App Store.

      This was an interesting bit that wasn't explained anywhere in the article. What kind of phone calls they get? Asking for user feedback of the app, marketing other products (maybe on other platforms)? Late night drunk calls?

      But for that matter, I've always though that phone apps have access to your number anyway. It just makes sense, same way that PC apps have access to your IP address and other personal data saved on the machine.

      Not that it's that bad anyway. Many kind of software need better access to the information to function to function. Answering machine software needs access to the phone book to show who called, or to make custom rules.

      I dont think that the issue is really that the phone number and other data are available, but more on abusing said info. With Apple's really closed approach and the app store, it would probably be a good idea to send info about the abuse to Apple directly. Technically the apps require access to information to function.

      As a side note, most of us probably think that "real-time traffic monitoring application" refers to internet traffic. I looked it up and it's actually about road traffic, not about internet stuff :)

      Its not an issue that its available, its an issue that its getting sent back to the vendor.

  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn.gmail@com> on Tuesday September 29, 2009 @05:02PM (#29585497) Journal
    That's nothing. You can use the Core Location Framework [apple.com] to figure out where they are. So I sold an application to celebrities only that shows them where the paparazzi are, it's called iAvoidPaparazzi. Then iAvoidPaparazzi sends my server their location which gets fed into another application called iMolestCelebs that I sell to tabloids and paparazzi. Then their information comes back to my server and gets fed out to iAvoidPaparazzi. Yeah it took me a few weeks to prime the pump so to speak but once this gets rolling I'm sure I'll make some huge bank off of it ... at least until I get shutdown after I take the heat for a few Princess Dianas. *sigh* A man can't make an honest living these days ...
    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      That's actually the point : when an app makes use of the CoreLocation framework, an alert is displayed automatically by the iphone to request the user's permission to get his location. It should be the same when an app tries to access the user's personal data. mmmhâ¦

    • by ZackSchil (560462) on Tuesday September 29, 2009 @05:12PM (#29585591)

      I get the whole racket thing, and it's a joke, etc, etc, but it's worth noting that you can turn the entire Core Location framework off on a system-wide basis. You just go in to Settings->General and turn off "Location Services".

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by MBCook (132727)
        Plus, the first time an application tries to use it, the iPhone pops up a little notification asking you for your permission.
        • by Threni (635302)

          Plus, it's just a phone call, on your phone. Let's not get this out of proportion - I can think of worse things than getting a phone call. Have a little fun - shout and swear down the phone; make wild promises to buy stuff but pull out at the last minute with a stupid excuse etc; if you have kids, get them to answer it and talk nonsense to them until they hang up etc. It works for me.

          • by Bert64 (520050)

            I do something similar on my home phone, i have asterisk answer and play through a few sound samples, usually of famous people... Some of the marketing callers stay on the line for quite a while trying to sell stuff to arnold schwarzenegger.

      • Just have the app demand the Location Services to be on.
        How and why? Make that a necessary requirement for sending your "friends" "gifts", such as "teddybears", "kittens", "kisses", "pokes" etc.
        You know... like on Facebook.

    • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

      by fermion (181285)
      On my iphone, anytime an app wants to use my location I get a request to allow it to so do. If any app that uses the location service I know that it is happening. This is in fact what apple is supposed to be protecting us for in exchange for us agreeing that the iTunes App store is a good idea. Developers have to obey certain rules, and the user has some protection against mal ware.

      So if this is happening, then it is a failure on Apples part. We do expect data on our phones to be private, and for Appl

      • by BobMcD (601576) on Tuesday September 29, 2009 @06:26PM (#29586217)

        I guess some people are just so frugal and introverted that any use of their time or minutes results in a temper tantrum, like some arrogant teenager when the unwashed have the audacity to talk to them.

        And you'd be right in a tiny fraction of the population's cases. For the majority, however, a better guess would be that were they asked to provide their iPhone number to the vendor, they would have declined to do so. However since they were not asked and the app took the number any way, they were understandably aggravated.

        It isn't the phone call that is important at all. It is the power to decide, and with whom that power ultimately rests.

        And if you genuinely cannot see that, I can only hope you do not live in the same democracy that I do...

      • If we make a call, that phone number is transmitted to the person we are calling. If we install an app on the iPhone, while all items on the phone we can expect to be private, I think a case can be made for and against the phone number.

        When I make a call, I understand that the person will receive my phone number. When I play a game of backgammon, I don't expect my number to be harvested. Tell you what--if you don't think this is a big deal, go ahead and post your phone number here on slashdot.

        I've been amused recently as the iPhone Fanbois go on and on about how the App Store is such a great thing because Apple will protect their private information.

    • My iPhone asked me if I want to let the app use my location. (e.g. when I'm using google maps).
      So apparently that is just to make me feel warm and fuzzy, and the app security is really non-existent?

      • by Jaktar (975138)
        Does it ask every time you use google maps? Does it call itself Universal Access Call, or UAC for short? Just curious.
        • If the user has Location Services turned off, it'll tell you that it refused the app, and the app gets nothing.

          If the user has Location Services turned on, it'll prompt the first time the app asks to use the service. If you say yes, then it'll remember from then on what you decided the first time, so no more prompts. If you say no, you get another prompt next time the app is launched. It's kind of like UAC as it should have been, so nothing like UAC on Vista.

          Apps live in a sandbox, so they don't get to see

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      "When a couple of voicemails didn't show up recently, I thought nothing of it until a friend asked me if I'd gotten his message -- people just don't call me that often

      It may not be the iPhone's fault, but the fault of one of the carriers. Neither my daughter or I have iPhones, but very often voicemail messages and texts I send her don't get there. She has the same problem with one of her friends' phones, and her friend doesn't have an iPhone, either.

  • by volxdragon (1297215) on Tuesday September 29, 2009 @05:10PM (#29585563)

    At least one server-based game I was looking at a network capture for was using the phone number as the login/authentication information to their server....rather stupid as it meant that anyone able to guess iPhone phone numbers would be able to hack other users accounts of the game...WHOOPS!

    • by sopssa (1498795) *

      Was it only the phone number that was used to auth, or some other info like phone id etc along it? No user password?

      If it was just phone number, that's pretty stupid. But if you include some phone specific id aswell, it makes it a little more secure. Granted, some other app could generate the same id when installed, but with Apple's closed approach that is a little bit harder and you would need to get the both apps installed on same phone.

      However that just shows that in some peoples mind extreme convenience

      • by beelsebob (529313)

        It can't have only been the phone number, after all, these apps all run on iPod touches as well.

  • While it's rather skeevey to not make it clear to users what data your program gathers and uses, it's not clear whether this violates any of Apple's developer agreements.

    At least, according to the rules that Apple seems to go by...

  • by Stoutlimb (143245) on Tuesday September 29, 2009 @05:16PM (#29585639)

    What are the chances that mainstream media would ever do this kind of investigative journalism? Or take seriously this kind of investigation done by an individual. Mainstream media like newspapers always claim that they have the upper hand over bloggers because they can do serious investigation.... but concerned people with time on their hands far outnumber journalists. This is a great example of that... and it's very telling that no mainstream news has yet to carry this.

    And I think it's serious, because I'm sure this violates a few laws, at least in my country.

  • iPhone applications can retrieve ALL information from your phonebook including names, addresses, and phone numbers. It does not need your permission either, there is no confirmation popup like with the location functions.

  • An application you installed on a system to be able to access the data on that system.

    Now, should the offending app get pulled from the store? I should hope so. I would think that the developer agreement to get on the app store includes something about making proper use of that data.

    Here's something you should be worried about, too - any app you install on a computer can access your address book on that computer! In fact, there are public API's to make it easy! OMG!

    • not if that app is run under credentials that don't have access to that address book. That sounds silly for an iphone, but that is exactly why internet facing applications on my box run as their own user and not root/myuser. Apache runs with Apache privileges.

  • by secretvampire (622660) on Tuesday September 29, 2009 @05:26PM (#29585731)
    There's an app for that.
  • Huh? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Chad Birch (1222564) on Tuesday September 29, 2009 @05:27PM (#29585747)
    Does anyone understand how the first sentence of the summary is supposed to relate to this story at all?

    Good job tagging it "coolstorybro" though, whoever did that. You made me laugh.
    • by Sir_Dill (218371)
      Agreed.

      This is a poorly written submission with extraneous "information" that has little to nothing to do with the actual story

  • This is a real-life example of how the Android permission model is pretty well thought-out. Any time you install an app from the Market, you're presented with a list of all the hardware and software resources that it utilizes. Installing a tip calculator? When you see that it needs permission to read/write contact data, access your location and have full internet access, some giant red flags should go up. True, you can't tell what exactly the app is actually doing with those powers you've granted it, b
    • by sopssa (1498795) *

      It's not actually Android's permission model, this has been the case with Symbian since 9.0 too. When you're installing an application, it shows you what services it uses and what data it can access.

      That being said, I dont like the need for certification of apps on symbian. But not like its really better on iPhone either.

    • by w3woody (44457) on Tuesday September 29, 2009 @06:11PM (#29586107) Homepage

      Please.

      The Android permissions model works if you are a geek and have the correct magic decoder ring to understand the permissions being asked for. But most people are going to blow through those settings the same way that they blow through the Windows Vista UAC alerts.

      I know: the company I'm working for is currently shipping on the Android Marketplace an application which explicitly requests the "Phone calls (read phone state)" and "Services that cost you money (directly call phone numbers)" states--and that hasn't slowed our adoption rate one whit.

      (The first is so we can read the IMEI to generate a unique identifier--which is ultimately generated as a one-way hash. The one-way hash makes it impossible for us to go back from the UUID to a specific user or phone--and it works that way because I put my foot down. (Our Prod Manager wanted the user's phone number--to which I responded "No frakkin' way. Fire my ass first.") The second is so when the user asks for more information on a particular business found in our app I can dump him into the telephony application with the phone number pre-loaded. But we do not actually initiate the phone call; the user has to press the "call" button, despite having an API to initiate the phone call ourselves. Again, I put my foot down here--before I suck your minutes I want to know that was what you really wanted.)

      Yes, we don't do anything bad. But it's not because the Android permission model slowed us down one microsecond. Thus far we've shipped over 175,000 copies. No; it's because I put my foot down--and I can see that for someone not as stubborn as me, it'd would have been easy for us to capture the location and phone number of 175,000 users and track where they were while they were using our app in real time.

      • I don't entirely agree that most users will "blow through them", but I understand that some will.

        Obviously, it's a social engineering problem.

        As the GP pointed out, if a tip calculator needs access to the Internet and your address book, you can legitimately say something here is amiss. If a program that sends free SMS messages needs your phone number, I'm not sure if that's legitimate or not. It seems like it would be. And even if they do need it to send SMS messages, what they do with it after that is u

  • Come on, other phones allow this.

    What next? stop an application from accessing the phone book?

    I'm sure you usual computer is vulnerable too, what is stopping some software stealing all your email addresses?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by roothog (635998)
      Software that steals email addresses is called "malware" and isn't sold at a marketplace managed by the OS vendor.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Ilgaz (86384)

      There isn't a single other phone allowing this. On Symbian, you can't simply make your app "call" a number or send a sms without user getting a huge warning on screen.

      Gathering phone numbers can be done only that way, there is no central "app store" which leaks user phone numbers.

      I believe J2ME apps can't even try to do such sms/dial thing if they don't have a security cert.

      These issues were fixed almost a decade ago, Apple ignored all the hard work done by others and rolled their own control freak store. T

      • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

        by UnknowingFool (672806)

        There isn't a single other phone allowing this. On Symbian, you can't simply make your app "call" a number or send a sms without user getting a huge warning on screen.

        That's not my interpretation of the situation. The iPhone isn't being turned into some sort of botnet. If you download certain free apps on the iPhone, the apps is accessing the phone number of the phone and sending it back to the company that made the app. The company then is calling the iPhone number trying to convince the user to pay for

  • As much as this may be on Apple, any good software developer should be asking the user for authority to share/access that information to begin with, specially if it's going to lead to sales calls down the line. Since it looks like mogoRoad didn't (at least there's no mention of this anywhere) it's telling that they really don't care about user privacy.

    Apple could probably solve this by encapsulating any data on the iPhone with a framework that forces UI authorization before any app on the iPhone is allo

  • I was curious if this was possible on other devices. Seems like all the big ones have some API functionality to retrieve similar information:

    - http://docs.blackberry.com/en/developers/deliverables/8540/Retrieve_phone_number_BB_device_565546_11.jsp [blackberry.com] Blackberry

    - http://blogs.msdn.com/windowsmobile/archive/2004/11/28/271110.aspx [msdn.com] Windows Mobile

    - http://www.forum.nokia.com/infocenter/index.jsp?topic=/S60_5th_Edition_Cpp_Developers_Library/GUID-3EB7E846-A29F-4546-B04D-A90B009903EF.html [nokia.com] Symbian (while on casual ins

  • by MrKaos (858439) on Tuesday September 29, 2009 @06:00PM (#29586005) Journal

    If Apple really did care about your privacy then the functionality just would not exist, and at best it would be a hack. As it stands it's just an undocumented feature.

    It's great to rely on 'developer integrity' and all ya' know, but those developers are motivated by a need to generate a return. It's hard for anyone to expect a management team *not* to instruct a development team to extract said information and feed it into a marketing team. I've got two ideas for iPhone applications iWantYourMoney and iWantYourInformation supported by the iPwned you framework.

    Seriously people it's like putting a 9 year old in front of a big red button with a sign under it saying 'Do not press this button' and saying to the kid 'Don't touch that button kid'. I'd expect the management teams to be saying 'what other user information can you extract'.

    • by Trillan (597339)

      Your analogy is flawed, in that there is no button.

      That's not to say Apple shouldn't secure this. They should. But there's no button, and there's no sign. Undocumented means someone has poked through data downloaded from an unlocked phone to find where the phone number is stored.

      • by MrKaos (858439)

        Your analogy is flawed,

        fair enough. Telling the kid that there might be a present up in that wardrobe somewhere and not to look for it. I was just making it up as I went along. But implementing that functionality inside the ifone would have taken a series of overview meetings, management decisions, implementation meetings and developer resources to achieve.

        The bottom line is the functionality was there to be discovered as opposed to not there to be discovered. As such the discussion is about "securing th

  • by Anonymous Coward

    "When a couple of voicemails didn't show up recently, I thought nothing of it until a friend asked me if I'd gotten his message â" people just don't call me that often."

    wtf does this have to do with anything?

    "But the iPhone is indeed a phone..."

    Glad you set that up for us.

  • It's well known that apps can detect when they've been pirated on the iPod Touch and iPhone (it's completely detectable, and works 100% since DRM'ed versions should not have the extra entries). In fact, these apps have been known to report back to the host practically everything about the device - UUID and other things (it was posted in one of the forums how to do this, and what you should do if you detect it).

    Funny enough, the crackers have also discovered the apps doing this and work around it...

  • Nothing New Here (Score:5, Informative)

    by leapis (89780) on Tuesday September 29, 2009 @06:37PM (#29586299)

    I have written applications on just about every smartphone plaform, and I have never met an API did that did not have the ability to query the phone number of the device. Assuming you have a data plan (in many cases, the only way to get the app in the first place), its a tiny amount of code to post that information to a web page the first time the application runs. Some platforms, such as the Android, do indicate when an application has access to use the Internet, but its not trivial to find out exactly what information is going back and forth.

    This issue has always been there, and is no more of a problem on an iPhone than other similar platforms.

    • because the iPhone is made with all that extra smug!!

      Sent from my iPhone

  • Because you can, doesn't mean you should.

    You ask the user for their identifying information, if they don't willingly give it, you stop there.
    Period. Anything else is a great way to get permanently blacklisted. Seriously stupid mistake.
    (Never mind that in North America that solicitation calls on a cellphone are seriously frowned upon)

  • This behavior is explicitly unacceptable. The fact that it has been done is a failing of the app review process. It's also possible that the developers went to great lengths to hide this behavior (such as setting it up to only happen when a particular flag is flipped on on the server so that it wouldn't happen during review processes.) As a registered iphone developer who actually reads his agreement documentation, I can assure you this particular issue is specifically addressed. The application in ques

  • by mevets (322601) on Tuesday September 29, 2009 @08:42PM (#29587551)

    .... and the iPhone fixed that. Is there anything that phone can't do?

  • if the company states that Apple gives them the information, and that turns out to be untrue... can we get a hearing for deliberate deception or fraud here?

    How about a moment of honesty here.

    Let me guess, supreme court rulings support the ability of businesses to deceive people.

    ugh... we need a revolution.

  • Every mobile platform I've ever used gives applications read-only access to basic phone parameters. There is nothing new here. Knowing your phone number, knowing battery status, knowing if you're in coverage - all useful information. What the developers are doing with it in this case is highly questionable, but it's always there.

    Actually manipulating the call progress from an application is a privileged operation, as it should be. I encountered this in a Brew application where I wanted to examine the call

  • The problem here is not with the technology, but with the business ethics of the company involved. It's not like discovering the phone numbers of consumers has been outright impossible before, it's merely become simple enough in this particular instance that an unscrupulous company thought it was worth the effort.

  • Old News (Score:3, Informative)

    by psergiu (67614) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @02:22AM (#29589849)

    Tha't old news people.

    Anyone with half a brain has already installed on his jailbreaked iPhone the modified /etc/hosts from i-phone-home.blogspot.com [blogspot.com].

    • by muffen (321442)
      I hadn't installed it but thanks to your post I now have.

      To be honest I am a quite new iPhone user and althought I should have expected the same behaviour on iPhone apps we see on the computer side, I didn't. Now I have UDIDFaker installed as well as the update hosts file.

      Reading some of the info that gets stolen, such as Storm8 stealing phonenumbers combined with Apple not caring really scared me.
      UDIDFaker and compiledadhosts are two packages that will ALWAYS be installed on my iPhone.

      I thank yo

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