Apple threatened to drop Uber’s app over iPhone tracking (updated)

Uber is no stranger to trouble, but it may have landed in some especially hot water two years ago. New York Times sources claim that Apple CEO Tim Cook held a face-to-face meeting in early 2015 to call out Uber’s Travis Kalanick (and threaten to remove his app from the App Store) after learning that Uber was not only violating iOS app privacy guidelines, but was trying to cover it up. Reportedly, the ridesharing outfit had been “fingerprinting” iPhones with permanent identities so that it could prevent drivers from cheating by creating fake accounts and accepting rides from these bogus customers. The IDs would last even after the app was deleted or the entire phone was wiped. While this helped keep drivers honest, it was clearly a privacy violation — and it was made worse by Uber’s bid to hide the tracking from App Store reviewers.

Reportedly, Kalanick told staff to “obfuscate” the Uber app’s fingerprinting code for anyone operating from Apple’s current headquarters in Cupertino. As far as the people at Infinite Loop could see, it was business as usual. However, the trick didn’t work for long. Apple workers outside of the headquarters eventually spotted the shady behavior, leading to the meeting with Kalanick. The approach isn’t that uncommon for Uber (it recently admitted that it used location-based techniques to fool regulators), but it’s particularly brazen given the risk of being dropped from the App Store and losing millions of customers.

Apple isn’t commenting on the meeting with Cook, and we’ve reached out to Uber for its take on the allegations. However, it’s safe to say that Uber would like to leave an issue like this in the past. The company is trying to turn a corner, and Kalanick himself is looking for a second-in-command to keep his boundary-pushing tendencies in check. This revelation certainly won’t help matters, though. It reinforces the notion that Uber is all too willing to break rules in the name of money, even if it’s motivated by honest concerns like fraud.

Update: Uber has responded to Engadget, and maintains that its staff “absolutely do not” track individual users after they’ve deleted the app. The company adds that fingerprinting is a “typical way” of preventing people from using stolen phones for joyrides, and otherwise thwarting “known bad actors.” You can read the full statement below. It’s good to hear that the company isn’t tracking people, but the heart of the story revolves around hardware fingerprints — those still violated Apple’s privacy guidelines, even if Uber couldn’t definitively associate phones with specific customers.

“We absolutely do not track individual users or their location if they’ve deleted the app. As the New York Times story notes towards the very end, this is a typical way to prevent fraudsters from loading Uber onto a stolen phone, putting in a stolen credit card, taking an expensive ride and then wiping the phone—over and over again. Similar techniques are also used for detecting and blocking suspicious logins to protect our users’ accounts. Being able to recognize known bad actors when they try to get back onto our network is an important security measure for both Uber and our users.”

Source: New York Times

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New Google Maps ads will drop branded pins on your search results

Yes, Google builds plenty of useful and fun products, but don’t ever forget — the company is first and foremost an advertising business. As such, today the company is announcing a number of updates to its various advertising products to help brands do a better job at reaching the billion-plus people using Google’s core services like search, Gmail and Maps.

The change that’ll probably be most noticeable to Google’s end users comes to Maps, a particularly valuable product for the company — Google says that nearly a third of all mobile searches are related to specific locations, and lots of those searches likely end up with the user in Google Maps. So now, when you’re looking at Google Maps on your phone, you’ll see the occasional “branded pin.” It’s similar to the red pin that shows up when you do a search, but it contains a brand’s logo right in it. These will show up when you’re looking at a map or looking at the navigation view in Google Maps.

Google is also offering brands and advertisers more customizable product pages within Google Maps itself. If you tab through to an advertising business’s detail page, you’ll be able to search a store’s local inventory or redeem special offers (if the store chooses to offer those options, that is). During a press briefing, we saw a Best Buy that offered 10 percent off iPhone accessories and a Starbucks that offered a dollar off your drink when you tapped through to the specific location details.

Obviously, none of us really want more ads in our products, but it’s an inevitability when dealing with Google. And there are worse things than having the option to save a few bucks if you need to hit a big-box store or chain. Hopefully Google and advertisers will exercise some restraint when using this tool, which will start popping up on iOS and Android over the coming months.

Source: Google

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