iOS Photo and Video Privacy Issues Highlighted with New Test Application

Earlier this month, privacy issues related to the uploading of users' address books to developers' servers were cast into the limelight as Congress requested details from Apple on how private information is handled and protected. While Apple quickly responded to note that it would be addressing the issue by requiring explicit permission to be granted by users for apps to access their address book data, it has been a relatively open secret for some time that developers can gain access to a broad array of what might be considered private information, including photos, calendars, and other content.

The New York Times today is taking a closer look at the topic of photos and videos, noting how easy it is for developers to quietly gain access to such content when given permission to collect location information.

After a user allows an application on an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch to have access to location information, the app can copy the user’s entire photo library, without any further notification or warning, according to app developers.

It is unclear whether any apps in Apple’s App Store are actually doing this. Apple says it screens all apps submitted to the store, and presumably it would not authorize an app that clearly copied a person’s photos without good reason. But copying address book data was also against Apple’s rules, and the company let through a number of popular apps that did so.

photospy
The New York Times tested this behavior by commissioning an iOS developer to write a simple test application dubbed "PhotoSpy" that demonstrates how a simple pop-up requesting permission to access location information can actually lead to broad access to all photos and videos in a user's photo library on the device.

When the “PhotoSpy” app was started up, it asked for access to location data. Once this was granted, it began siphoning photos and their location data to a remote server. (The app was not submitted to the App Store.)

Apple and other mobile app distributors recently signed on to a new agreement with the California Attorney General's office that will see the companies making it easier for users to examine privacy policies associated with apps before they download them. And with pressure mounting on Apple to take further steps to ensure that apps can access only information explicitly permitted by users, many are undoubtedly hoping that more changes are coming in the relatively near future.

Update: The Verge reports that "sources familiar with the situation" have indicated the photo and video access is a bug and that a fix is in the works.

We spoke to sources familiar with the situation, and were informed that a fix is most likely coming for the loophole. According to the people we talked to, Apple has been made aware of the issue and is likely planning a fix with an upcoming release of iOS. Those sources also confirmed that the ability to send your photos and videos to a third-party is an error, not an intended feature. If we had to guess, the fix will likely come alongside a patch for Apple's other recent security issue — the ability for apps to upload your address book information without warning.

Top Rated Comments

pmz Avatar
141 months ago
So, NYT, just to be sure:

1. You asked the user for permission (although not explicitly for what you did).

2. You did not submit this to the App Store (aka, have no idea whether it would have been approved)

Gotcha. Thanks, but you couldn't have put together a more irrelevant example of an App Store App that takes data without permission.
Score: 12 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Consultant Avatar
141 months ago
This is a rare area where Android actually does a better job. The developer of each app must state in the packaged manifest file the access permissions to physical hardware (e.g. GPS, microphone) and services (e.g. file system) that the app uses. These requirements are then shown explicitly in the Android marketplace before the use downloads the app. In iOS, there is a plist for developers to state access requirements, but until now, they are not shown in the App Store.

Nope. Android permission can be easily bypassed by Android malware:
http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/11/30/google_android_security_bug/
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)
newagemac Avatar
141 months ago
This is a rare area where Android actually does a better job. The developer of each app must state in the packaged manifest file the access permissions to physical hardware (e.g. GPS, microphone) and services (e.g. file system) that the app uses. These requirements are then shown explicitly in the Android marketplace before the use downloads the app. There is no similar equivalent in iOS or the App Store.
The problem with that approach is that it isn't granular enough. And it can't possibly be granular enough to prevent malware and rogue apps. For example, let's say let's say you are looking for a file manager for your Android device. Well, the manifest says the app needs access to the file system. "Ok, that makes sense." Then you download the app and it proceeds to delete every file on your device and replace them with viruses or something.

There is absolutely no way you can defend against that unless you have a curated approach. If it's a file manager, it needs access to your files. Likewise in the NY Times example, if it is a photo editing app, it needs access to your photos. There is no way getting around it. Someone has to actually test the app to know what exactly it will do once it has access to some particular part of your device. That's why Android is a goldmine for malware and privacy invaders.
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)
BaldiMac Avatar
141 months ago
If this is okay on iOS, why do you make such a big deal about the same thing on Android?

Having access to private data is not the same thing as malware??? :confused:
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)
dethmaShine Avatar
141 months ago
This has been verified by a number of people on the forums.

- contacts
- calendars
- photos
- videos

Nothing new. Although, highly severe and critical.

Apple made a mess out of them. They should have treated this data, the way they treat locations in general. Too lenient.
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)
jtara Avatar
141 months ago
When I first looked at this, I wondered why it even has to request permission for location data.

Well, it does, and that's because photos might contain location information in the metadata.

So, iPhone users can at least be assured that their photos aren't being accessed if the app doesn't ask permission for location data.

This problem has existed since Day 1, and has been ignored by both Apple and millions of users. It goes to show you how easily we trust those who should not be trusted today. I am baffled at the phenomena.

That the public doesn't care is illustrated by the widespread use of Facebook.

It's going to bite many people. I do think that the public will take an about face over the next couple of years, as the chickens come home to roost. I think the major factor driving this will be the largescale abandonment of the traditional resume by job-seekers and employers.

Lots of people are going to find that they screwed themselves royally.
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Popular Stories

iOS 16

Apple Releases iOS 16.1.2 With Carrier Improvements and Crash Detection Optimizations

Wednesday November 30, 2022 10:09 am PST by
Apple today released iOS 16.1.2, another minor bug fix update that comes one week after the release of iOS 16.1.1 and three weeks after the launch of iOS 16.1, an update that added support for iCloud Shared Photo Library, Matter, Live Activities, and more. The iOS 16.1.2 update can be downloaded on eligible iPhones over-the-air by going to Settings > General > Software Update. According...
Emergency SOS via Satellite iPhone YT

Apple's iPhone 14 Emergency SOS via Satellite Feature Saves Stranded Man in Alaska

Thursday December 1, 2022 4:37 pm PST by
With the launch of iOS 16.1, Apple rolled out a Emergency SOS via Satellite, which is designed to allow iPhone 14 owners to contact emergency services using satellite connectivity when no cellular or WiFi connection is available. The feature was put to the test in Alaska today, when a man became stranded in a rural area. In the early hours of the morning on December 1, Alaska State Troopers ...
General iOS 16 Feature Yellow

iOS 16.2 for iPhone Launching This Month With These 8 New Features

Thursday December 1, 2022 8:44 am PST by
Apple plans to publicly release iOS 16.2 for the iPhone in mid-December, according to Bloomberg's Mark Gurman. The update remains in beta testing for now, with at least eight new features and changes already uncovered so far. iOS 16.2 introduces a number of new features, including Apple's new whiteboard app Freeform, two new Lock Screen widgets for Sleep and Medications, the ability to hide...
applefifthavenue

Man Robbed After Buying 300 iPhones From Apple Fifth Avenue

Tuesday November 29, 2022 11:54 am PST by
An unnamed 27-year-old man who purchased 300 iPhones from Apple Fifth Avenue on Monday morning was robbed shortly after leaving the store, according to 1010Wins Radio in New York. He was carrying 300 iPhone 13s in three bags and walking to his car at 1:45 a.m. when another car pulled up next to him. Two men jumped out and demanded that he hand over the bags. Not wanting to hand over 300...
14 vs 16 inch mbp m2 pro and max feature 1

'M2 Max' Geekbench Scores Leak Online, Revealing Rumored Specs and Performance

Wednesday November 30, 2022 2:39 am PST by
Geekbench scores allegedly for the upcoming "M2 Max" chip have surfaced online, offering a closer look at the performance levels and specific details of the forthcoming Apple silicon processor. The Geekbench results, first spotted on Twitter, are for a Mac configuration of with the M2 Max chip, a 12-core CPU, and 96GB of memory. The Mac listed has an identifier "Mac14,6," which could be...
iPad 10 Battery Pull Tabs

iPad 10 Teardown Reveals Why Device Isn't Compatible With Apple Pencil 2

Thursday December 1, 2022 10:48 am PST by
Do-it-yourself repair website iFixit today shared a video teardown of Apple's new 10th-generation iPad, providing a closer look inside the tablet and revealing why the device lacks support for the second-generation Apple Pencil. The teardown reveals the internal layout of the iPad, including its two-cell 7,606 mAh battery, logic board with the A14 Bionic chip, and more. As suspected, the...
Apple Park View

Elon Musk Meets With Apple CEO Tim Cook Amid Claims of Twitter App Store Dispute [Updated]

Wednesday November 30, 2022 12:43 pm PST by
Twitter CEO Elon Musk today met with Apple CEO Tim Cook at the Apple Park campus in Cupertino, California, according to a tweet shared by Musk this afternoon. Musk thanked Cook for taking him around Apple's headquarters, with no mention of what the two might have discussed. The meeting comes just after Musk on Monday claimed that Apple has "mostly stopped" offering ads on Twitter, and that...
eufy camera

Anker's Eufy Cameras Caught Uploading Content to the Cloud Without User Consent [Updated]

Tuesday November 29, 2022 1:01 pm PST by
Anker's popular Eufy-branded security cameras appear to be sending some data to the cloud, even when cloud storage is disabled and local only storage settings are turned on. The information comes from security consultant Paul Moore, who last week published a video outlining the issue. According to Moore, he purchased a Eufy Doorbell Dual, which was meant to be a device that stored video...
app store awards 2021

Apple Announces 2022 App Store Award Winners, Highlighting Best Apps of the Year

Tuesday November 29, 2022 3:10 am PST by
Apple today announced its 2022 App Store Award winners, highlighting the 16 best apps and games selected by Apple's global App Store editorial team. The top apps were chosen by Apple for their quality, innovative technology, creative design, positive cultural impact, and ability to deliver "exceptional experiences." Apple CEO Tim Cook said: This year's App Store Award winners reimagined...
iOS 16

Apple Still Has These 5 Things to Release Heading Into 2023

Thursday December 1, 2022 7:12 am PST by
The calendar has turned to December and that means Apple has only one month left to fulfill its promises of releasing an Apple Music Classical app and expanding its self-service repair program to Europe before the end of 2022. Delays are always possible, of course, so the plans could be pushed back to 2023. In any case, we have put together a list of five things that Apple still has to release...