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Microsoft ID guru slams 'duplicitous' Apple

Jobs' non-personal data claim 'hogwash'

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Microsoft chief architect of identity Kim Cameron has insisted that the "non-personal information" collected by Apple can be used to personally identify you – despite angry counterarguments from at least one Jobsian fanboi.

At a privacy conference in Seattle, Washington, Cameron last week gave a talk that touched on Apple's recent changes to its iPhone privacy policy, which he first flagged up in late June. Apple now says it will collect "non-personal information - data in a form that does not permit direct association with any specific individual," and it reserves the right to disclose this information "for any purpose."

This, according to Apple, includes data such as "occupation, language, zip code, area code, unique device identifier, location, and the time zone where an Apple product is used so that we can better understand customer behavior and improve our products, services, and advertising."

Cameron has long said that Apple's characterization of this data as non-personal is "unbelievably specious." And at the end of his talk, one audience member took issue with this stance. "My questioner was clearly a bit irritated with me," Cameron says in a blog post. "Didn’t I realize that the 'unique device identifier' was just a GUID - a purely random number? It wasn’t a MAC address. It was not personally identifying."

But Cameron had already made his case quite clearly. "The question really perplexed me, since I had just shown a slide demonstrating how if you go to this well-known website [Whitepages.com] and enter a location you find out who lives there," Cameron says.

"I pointed out the obvious: if Apple releases your location and a GUID to a third party on multiple occasions, one location will soon stand out as being your residence...Then presto, if the third party looks up the address in a 'Reverse Address' search engine, the 'random' GUID identifies you personally forever more. The notion that location information tied to random identifiers is not personally identifiable information is total hogwash."

But the fanboi was unbowed. "Is your problem that Apple’s privacy policy is so clear?" Cameron's questioner asked. "Do you prefer companies who don’t publish a privacy policy at all, but rather just take your information without telling you?"

According to Cameron, the question was shot down by a collective groan from his audience. But it stuck with him. "I personally found the question thought provoking," Cameron says. "I assume corporations publish privacy policies - even those as duplicitous as Apple’s - because they have to. I need to learn more about why."

Cameron did not immediately respond to our request for comment. But when he learns more about Apple's "duplicitous" policy writing, we'll let you know. ®

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