HUA HIN, Thailand - Despite
escalating revenue figures in the billions, and
being the world's most valuable company, Apple is
having a tough time recently which may be
justifiable considering the superciliousness the
company has towards any form of criticism.
Controversy is escalating over concerns
regarding personal privacy following the discovery
that a number of App Store applications have been
lifting private data from iPhones and iPads
without user consent.
A social networking
app called Path has been the primary culprit as it
uploaded unencrypted personal address book data to
its servers whenever anybody opened it on their
handset. Many more iOS apps such as Facebook,
Foursquare, LinkedIn, Hipster, Twitter and even
Angry Birds, are behaving in a similar manner
unbeknown to their
customers and users.
The US Congress put
pressure on Apple this week to amend its policies
and plug this security flaw which has somehow
infiltrated its otherwise very stringent App
Store. Software programmers are blaming the
company itself, as the Apple API (application
programming interface) allowed developers to
access all the data in a user's contact list,
including names, addresses, telephone numbers,
e-mail addresses, and more.
Apple needs to
make some changes and has stated this week that it
is working to make things better for their
customers and "any app wishing to access contact
data will require explicit user approval in a
future software release".
don't end there for Apple. Following court action
against the company in China last week (see Microsoft
in burnish mode, Asia Times Online, February
11, 2012) over a trademark dispute, Apple now
faces a ban on iPad sales within the country.
Authorities wasted no time taking action -
iPads have already been seized from retailer's
shelves in two cities and plaintiff Proview
Technology requested that they do the same in over
20 more cities to comply with the ruling. The
company is also seeking an export ban to prevent
Apple shipping tablet devices out of the country.
China is not only a a huge consumer base
but is also where the company manufactures many of
its products including the iPad, iPhone and iPod.
Apple has come under fire recently over working
conditions at factories in China that make its
products, and the company has agreed to
third-party audits and inspection of facilities.
Meanwhile rumors have hit the web that the
iPad 3 will be launched as early as March. The
company has remained typically silent about the
release of the next version of the popular tablet
device. It will feature a faster processor, more
memory, a better display, and improved
connectivity but largely remain the same as the
Whether or not Apple will
be able to sell it in China under the same name
remains to be seen. Apple released a preview of
the next iteration of its Mac operating system, OS
X, dubbed Mountain Lion, on Thursday with a slew
of updates and functions taken from its mobile
platform. The aims of it are clear; merging
Macintosh platforms with those used in handheld
devices such as iPhones and iPads to keep users
locked into the Apple ecosystem.
company is also leading the way in smart-phones
and tablets but only captures a meager 5.4% of the
global personal computer market. The latest OS
update is a drive to incentivize iPhone and iPad
consumers into buying a Mac.
Internet In its push to know
everything about everyone, Google has introduced
another scheme to help it gather data on the
public and their behavior on the Internet.
Following the recent shakeup of its privacy
policies, which cannot be opted out of, the
company announced this week that it will offer
US$25 in the form of Amazon gift vouchers to users
willing to allow it to monitor their movements
online in greater depth than Google already does.
The program called Screenwise, will enable
volunteers to download a browser extension that
probes deeper into their browsing habits.
According to the company "This panel is designed
to help us understand web usage better - such as
what times of day people browse, how long they
stay on websites and what types of sites are
popular (or not)." The slogan on the already
oversubscribed Screenwise page that reads "Help Us
Make Google Better" should read "richer" as the
gathered information will no doubt be used to
target advertising more efficiently.
publicly, Google also offered greater financial
incentive to those willing to install a piece of
hardware on their network to allow even deeper
probing. The search giant is working in
conjunction with a company called Knowledge
Networks to install black boxes acting as Internet
routers which also gather data on household
browsing habits. The legal agreements displayed
during the sign-up process indicate that Google
will share the personally identifiable data with
third parties, such as academic institutions,
advertisers, publishers, and programming networks.
The company already collects masses of
user data from its own services. This program will
allow it to see what people are doing outside of
the Google ecosystem and on their competitors'
rolled out its Patch Tuesday fix this week, which
plugged 21 vulnerabilities in its software. Six
were classified as critical, 14 as important and
one as moderate, the patches addressed security
flaws in Windows, Office, Internet Explorer and
IE was again at the top of
the patch list. Four of the bug fixes targeted
holes that could allow "drive by" attacks, which
means a user only needs to visit a malicious
website to become compromised with no downloading
or opening of files required. There were also
serious fixes applied to Windows Media Player as
it can become infected if a user clicks on a
spurious media link offering video or music
similar to the one that has plagued thousands of
Hotmail accounts recently.
Adobe has also
been patching this week as more flaws have been
discovered in its Shockwave Player for PC and Mac.
Additionally Mozilla mended Firefox by updating it
to version 10.0.1 to patch several memory-related
security flaws in the most recent version of the
browser which was released on January 31.
Earlier this month, Apple released a slew
of security updates to fix 52 issues with Mac OS X
Lion and Snow Leopard and then had to re-patch a
few days later after reports of the first update
causing system crashes. Security experts claim
that third-party software is driving the growth in
vulnerabilities; last year 78% of them were found
in third-party programs compared to 12% in
operating systems and 10% in Microsoft
Martin J Young is
an Asia Times Online correspondent based in
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