Users claim iPhone 'phones home' to Apple

Is Apple tracking which applications you are using?

Speculation that Apple's iPhone is itself "phoning home" to the company with personal information, including which stocks users are tracking, is probably off base, a German security Web site said.

According to translations of an analysis posted by Heise Zeitschriften Verlag of Hannover, Germany, while the binaries of a pair of iPhone applications -- the weather and stock applets -- include strings that contain the characters "imei," it's unlikely that the phone's identifier is being sent to Apple.

Each mobile phone is tagged with a unique International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number that can be used by carriers to block handsets reported as stolen.

Talk of IMEIs -- and other data -- being transmitted to Apple stemmed from reports on a blog and the Hackint0sh message forum from researchers who said they had spotted strings in the iPhone's Stock and Weather widgets. The string most users focused on was a URL that included an Apple domain address: http://iphone-wu.apple.com/dgw?imei=%@&apptype=finance.

"This let[s] Apple know which app you are using when connecting with your iPhone," said XianLi, the Hacint0sh user who first disclosed the iPhone-to-Apple connection. "Obviously, they know the IP address you were using, the stocks you are interested to [sic], and so they can track down their customers all around the world."

Others on the Hackint0sh thread weighed in with a "so what?" attitude. "I don't see the relevance," said thecompkid. "Sure, it may piss some people off that their data can be traced back to them, but there's nothing really confidential or important about stocks and weather data. Now, I'm assuming that all that is being sent is your IMEI, which is what appears to be true."

Heise, however, wasn't even sure that the IMEI is being sent, since when it sniffed the traffic between an iPhone and Apple, it found that the Weather gadget transmitted a different value for "imei" than did the Stock widget. Speculation that Apple is interested in the stocks iPhone owners track are, concluded Heise, "very farfetched."

Apple officials did not respond to a request for comment.

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Gregg Keizer

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