Apple Phones Home, Too

July 3rd, 2006

Lately I’ve heard a lot on technical podcasts about the public outrage over “Microsoft Genuine Advantage” and the fact that it “phones home” every day.

Apple released Mac OS X 10.4.7 last week, and ever since I installed it, I’ve been noticing Apple’s own modest home phoning behavior. In this case it’s ostensibly to provide users with the opportunity to check whether the Dashboard Widgets you download are identical to ones featured on Apple’s site. Sort of a security debriefing, I guess. From the 10.4.7 release notes:

You can now verify whether or not a Dashboard widget you downloaded is the same version as a widget featured on ( before installing it.

The problem is this feature popped up without my permission, and there’s no obvious way for me to turn it off. This is how companies, even fairly trustable ones (IMHO) like Apple, make users paranoid and suspicious of them. This phoning home is done by a new process called “dashboardadvisoryd.” I don’t know the exact schedule, but it appears to be very frequent: twice today in a seven hour period. If I didn’t run Little Snitch I wouldn’t have any idea this was going on, because Apple made no point of informing me of the new feature and what it would entail.

One of the nice things about Little Snitch is it gives you a chance to “perk up your ears” to what’s being said between the client and server. When I see an unusual connection being requested, I often allow it to take place, but not before switching to the Terminal and starting up tcpdump so I can scrutinize the traffic. I figure if anybody is going to be chatting behind my back I at least want to know the gist of what they’re saying.

So far as I can tell, the activity from Apple is in this case pretty tame. At least so far. Every time it phones home, it requests the following two URLs:

The first appears to be a public key or something. The second appears to be empty but its header values may convey something of interest to Apple’s client.

I can’t see that anything at all is being sent back to Apple, but that’s sort of not the point. The mere act of “checking in” lets Apple know that I’m here and I’m running 10.4.7. They didn’t ask my permission to start making this regular checkin, and I’m not even sure what benefit I’m going to be getting out of allowing it.

In an era when consumers are being encouraged to take responsibility for their own safety in the interconnected world, Apple and others should respect the boundaries of our “digital house” by at least keeping us in the loop about what is being done on our behalf. I can find no documentation about what Apple is choosing to send and receive on a regular basis from my Mac.

Keep me in the loop, Apple. And if I’m not comfortable with it, give me an option (short of Little Snitch) for turning it off. It’s my computer, after all.

112 Responses to “Apple Phones Home, Too”

  1. LampieTheClown Says:

    My computer is on the phone more often than a tenage girl!

    Between the dock, mail, widgets, software update, the ministore, and who knows what else, the average Mac phones home (guessing) between 8 – 15 times a day?

    I saw a post that explained the mail call as checking for new security certificates, and describing it as;
    “Every time you create a blank e-mail or hit reply”.

    Ministore calls every time you highlight a song in the i-tunes library, unless you turn it off. Does it count as two calls if it phones more than one “home” each time?

    Widgets call three times a day to authenticate if the software is endorsed by Apple, and has no off switch.

    Software update calls once a day by default.

    Help viewer calls home almost every time you open it, but have you noticed that it never comes up with any real answers? Hmmm.

    Crash Reporter sends lots of data home, and used to ask first. A while ago Little Snitch caught mine trying to do it without asking, twice in one day.

    I can’t imagine why the Dock would call home, but I’m told it does.

    I-Movie has tried to phone out on my computer, but Little Snitch caught it.

    Quicktime updater phones home.

    I’m sure there are others, but I think the point is made.

    “Your Honor, it wasn’t me stalking Mr. Jobs and harassing him at work, it was my computer. Really! I don’t even know his number”.
    “What? Twenty five times in one day? Really?”

    Damn static IP! I should have gotten dsl.

    See ya in 3 to 6.

  2. Harry Says:

    “Peter B. Says:
    So yes, in the end, you have to choose to trust them or not by default. And then do detailed analysis to validate your assumptions. Just using the network should not be a shortcut to an assumption of evil.”

    Rubbish. This is binary thinking at its dullest. “You’re either for us or against us”, eh?
    Consumers asking for transparent disclosure (and easy control) of machine initiated communication which they are legally responsibile for is not some weirdo extremist assumtion of evil, it is a conservative, thoughtful, considered, balanced, ethical and reasonable expectation.

    That said, it isn’t actually a very serious problem in this instance, but the principal is crucial. Please, Apple, stay better than Microsoft.

  3. Eston Says:

    This is the reason why Little Snitch should be part of OS X by default — then again, if that were the case, Apple would probably hide these things from their own snitch app.

  4. Apple Phones Home, TooApple released Mac OS X 10.4.7 last -- Centplus Tech Says:

    […] Apple Phones Home, TooApple released Mac OS X 10.4.7 last week, and ever since I installed it, I ve been noticing Apple s own modest home phoning behavior. In this case it s ostensibly to provide users with the opportunity to check whether the Dashboard … […]

  5. Bill Paxton Says:

    Just an FYI, if the New York Times published this article online or in print they would be printing a clarification/retraction.

    The blogsphere wants to have freedoms of the press, but doesnt want to abide by the same ethics standars it often seems.

  6. Daniel Jalkut Says:

    Bill: And if the New York Times received a letter along the lines of your comment, I hope they’d receive something more substantial than a vague accusation of inaccuracy.

    Tell me how I’ve been unethical here? Where is my factual error?

    Blogging also has self-correcting mechanisms that the NY Times doesn’t have, with 105 responses here where everybody has had an ample opportunity to help clarify the content. So comparing the two falls apart pretty quickly, even if you’re not being vague and provocative.

  7. Enrique Says:

    This is where you can find how to turn off the dashboardadvisory:

  8. Phonehome | .get privacy Says:

    […] Microsoft z.B. ist schon immer in Verdacht mit seinem Betriebssystem Daten heimzusenden, der Verdacht wird durch häufigen Funkverkehr oftmals erhärtet. Und just gab man auch eben diesen Umstand zu, zumindest beim bekannten Genuine Advantage, der Raubkopierer in den Wahnsinn treibt, aber auch ehrlichen Kunden so manche Träne entlockt. Da wird der Mac-Fan frohlocken, hat dieser doch eine Firma voller Revoluzzer die da eine bessere Welt möchten. Tja wäre da nicht der schon etwas länger zurückliegende Vorfall mit iTunes ministore und den einfach mal so übermittelten Daten. Man bereinigte den Fehler und weiter gings, mit heimfunkenden Widgets. […]

  9. semanticpool. » In Apple we trust … Says:

    […] – i hope so. Just read about the helpful “see if the new Dashboard widget is the same that we have on our servers here at […]

  10. Josh Says:


  11. Jay Wollmann Says:

    I’m a mac lover, but I don’t understand why mac lovers set apple apart from Microsoft like they could never do some of the shady things Microsoft does. This just isn’t true. They are out to make money just like Microsoft, they just happen to have a much better product and much smaller/ less complaining group of consumers. Apple consumers are generally easier to please than Microsoft consumers, because the product performs better. And we trust Apple, No one trusts Microsoft.

  12. 10.4.7 phoning home to Apple | Ars Technica Says:

    […] likely to be eagerly welcomed by users. One sharp-eyed blogger noticed that 10.4.7 has been phoning home to Apple, as often as twice within a seven-hour period. What is 10.4.7 so busy reporting? The answer is as […]

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