Commentary

Apple's Limit To UDID Access No Privacy Panacea

Faced with bad press, not to mention a host of lawsuits, Apple is taking steps to limit outside developers' ability to access the iPhones' and iPads' unique device identifiers.

Last year researchers reported that many popular applications available for iPhones track users via the devices' 40-digit unique identifiers, or UDIDs. Within months Apple was hit with the first in a string of potential class-action lawsuits alleging that it violated users' privacy by allowing developers to access device identifiers.

Apple last week told developers it is "phasing out" access to device identifiers, according to Techcrunch. The move means that third parties, including mobile ad networks, could find their ability to track users curtailed -- but probably not for long, given the existence of other tracking methods like device "fingerprinting."

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The real problem regarding tracking iPhone and iPad users doesn't stem from UDIDs, but from the fact that many mobile app developers lack policies regarding privacy, which means that users often don't know how their information will be used. It also means that developers can collect what they wish without running the risk of engaging in deceptive practices; after all, if developers never make any promises regarding privacy, they can't be accused of breaking them.

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