OS X Yosemite

OS X Yosemite preview gleans user data, too

That's how betas work

OS X Yosemite

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Microsoft isn't the only one running a preview program that collects data from participants: so does Apple.

OS X Yosemite's public beta -- the sneak peek Apple launched on July 24 -- collects a variety of data from users who download and install the preview.

"In order to test and improve Apple's products and services, and unless you opt out as set forth below, you acknowledge that Apple and its subsidiaries and agents will be collecting, using, storing, processing and analyzing (collectively, 'Collecting') diagnostic, technical, usage, and/or related information from your computers that are running pre-release versions of OS X as part of this Beta Program," Apple states in the preview's program agreement (download PDF).

If that sounds similar to the terms Microsoft spelled out for its Windows 10 Technical Preview, it should not be a surprise: Most beta agreements make comparable collection claims, since, again not a shock, developers release previews to gather feedback -- manually or not -- about how their software is being used, what it's being used with, and what persistent problems it has.

The Windows 10 Technical preview has been blasted by some critics for collecting an array of information from program participants, particularly a keystroke-collection feature. "We may collect typed characters and use them for purposes such as improving autocomplete and spellcheck features," Microsoft 10's preliminary privacy statement reads.

Some have labeled that a "key logger," a loaded term because malware often captures keystrokes to steal passwords.

The Yosemite beta agreement doesn't include a matching key-catching caveat, but instead describes data collection in more general terms.

"The information that would be Collected includes, but is not limited to, general diagnostic and usage data, various unique system or hardware identifiers, information about your computer, system and application software, and peripherals, and, if Location Services is enabled, the real-time geographic location of your computer and location search queries," the Yosemite agreement says.

But unlike Microsoft, Apple gives Yosemite beta users a way out. "If you do not agree to the foregoing, you may opt out by changing your Diagnostics & Usage and/or Location Services settings in System Preferences on your computer," the beta statement reads.

In most countries, the Diagnostics & Usage option is enabled by default unless the user opted out during installation. The setting can be found under the "Security & Privacy" section of System Preferences.

Apple's beta agreement's collection clause is also nearly identical to the one for OS X Mavericks, the 2013 upgrade that Yosemite is to replace. (That's pertinent because some of the criticism leveled at the data collection practices of Windows 10's Technical Preview stemmed from Microsoft's refusal to say whether the harvesting will remain when the final production version ships next year.)

In fact, Mavericks' license agreement is more thorough than the Yosemite counterpart. For example, Mavericks' (download PDF) devotes a full paragraph to Dictation -- a feature similar to Windows 10's speech-to-text, which has also come under fire -- and advises users that Apple collects and processes "your voice input and User Data, to provide and improve Dictation and Siri functionality in Apple products and services."

Dictation can be turned off in Yosemite (and Mavericks, for that matter) through "Dictation & Speech" in the System Preferences, and/or set for local processing only; when the latter is enabled, Apple doesn't receive user voice input.


Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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