A story made the rounds earlier today calling into question the new Spotlight Suggestions feature in OS X Yosemite and iOS 8. In an effort to garner attention, it reports the collection and usage of the information required to enable this feature in a needlessly scary way. As any long time reader knows, security and privacy are always at odds with convenience, yet features like Spotlight Suggestions — and Siri before it — do an excellent job balancing as much convenience as possible with maintaining as much privacy and security as possible. Here's Apple's statement on the matter:
Here's the original charge:
The "backlash" cited by the sensationalistic story is not the result of the story but the result of sensationalism, and that's disappointing. We depend on major publications to provide us with accurate information for our benefit, not for their own benefit. Where they could have taken the time to look into it, assess the facts, and help people understand, they chose to double down on FUD, and that's not only disappointing, it's distressing.
So what are the facts? Apple discloses how Spotlight Suggestions work in both the Spotlight section of System Preferences on the Mac, and in the Spotlight section of Settings > General on iPhones and iPads.
There's also a Spotlight Suggestion check box on both so that you, the person using the device, can easily turn it off if you value privacy and security over convenience. (And if you are such a person, and have already disabled location services, Spotlight honors that setting and doesn't send the information.)
Apple links to the following text right from the prefs/settings pane on both OS X and iOS. Not only is it simple to find, it's plainly written and understandable:
Apple has also posted a privacy section on their website, and an updated version of their iOS 8 security document that reiterate what they're doing and their long-standing position on privacy. Here's the relevant parts:
The white paper goes on to explain how locations are blurred, anonymous IDs are only kept for 15 minutes, recent apps are only included if they're on a white list of popular apps, etc. (It starts on page 40 of the above-linked PDF if you're curious about the specifics.)
So, again, Apple is only doing what they need to do to provide the conveniences of the feature they announced — the same way they've needed to collect enough data to answer questions with Siri in the past, or show you locations on Maps, or find your iPhone, iPad or Mac, and the list goes on.
If you don't like or want it, you can turn it off. That's the real story here — education. How it works, and what you can do with it and about it.
If you have any concerns or questions about Spotlight Suggestions, let me know in the comments!
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Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.