Is Apple Collecting Personally Identifiable iPhone Usage Data?

I recently bought an iPhone (my tech-porn for the year), and it has been a pleasurable experience (notwithstanding AT&T’s poor coverage in much of my apartment).

But I’m troubled by a rumor that has emerged claiming that “Apple is keeping abnormal watch on the identity of iPhones making use of online services.”

Apparently all cell phones have IMEI numbers that are unique to each phone and can be used to identify and track phones that connect to a particular wireless network. iPhone users claim, however, that the IMEI number is being sent to Apple each time one of the iPhone’s widgets are used, along with the actual widget activity.

Of course, the IMEI number is not itself personally-identifiable — it is merely assigned to a particular iPhone. But that number likely becomes associated with one’s .Mac account when the phone is activated. Given the difficulty in using an iPhone without official activation through iTunes with a .Mac account, it seems clear that each iPhone’s IMEI is linked to some kind of personally-identifiable information. (One can have an anonymous .Mac account, but I suspect most don’t – we use them to order through the Apple Store, and thus they have our names, mailing addresses, etc associated with them).

Further, its not that the stocks in my Stocks widget, or the cities in my Weather widget are particularly sensitive information. The concern is that this doesn’t seem to be standard operating procedure for mobile providers (the article notes that typically IMEIs are tracked at the network-access level, but not at the application/content level). And even though we likely signed-off on Apple’s ability to collect usage data in the EULA (again, see the article), Apple’s lack of transparency in this troubling. Apple does not track my widget activity on my iMac (as far as I know), and it is reasonable to believe — and to expect — that they won’t surveil my usage on the iPhone either.

[via Pogo Was Right]

UPDATE: More details at ComputerWorld.

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