Mac OS X "phones home" with 10.4.7 update

Mac users got a taste of what its like to run Microsoft Windows as it came to light this week that the recently released update, Mac OS X 10.4.7, "phones home" to Apple servers periodically. Referred to as the Dashboard Advisory by Apple, the new feature ensures customer's widgets are up to date -- Apple said there is no transmission of personal information.

"Apple takes protecting user privacy very seriously," an Apple representative told Macworld . "The Dashboard Advisory feature is a security tool that ensures the correct version of a widget has been downloaded from a third party site and no personal information is transmitted back to Apple."

While the automated check-in to Apple's servers seems relatively innocuous, some users are still upset that Apple would implement such a feature without an easy way to turn it off.

This isn't the first time that Apple finds itself in hot water over a new software feature that "phones home." In January, Apple released iTunes 6.0.2 with the MiniStore feature, which allowed Apple to push music suggestions to iTunes based on the currently selected track in the application.

While the MiniStore is a cool feature there was no way to turn it off, leaving users concerned about what information was being sent back to Apple's servers. Despite assurances from the company that no personal data was being transmitted, they relented and built in a mechanism to turn it on and off.

However harmless the Dashboard Advisory feature may be, Apple couldn't have picked a worse week to have a privacy concern from its users. Just two days ago Microsoft was hit with two lawsuits over its Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA), an antipiracy program that checks to make sure the copy of Windows you’re running has a valid license.

WGA was introduced in July 2005. It collects hardware and software data and delivers it to Microsoft servers; the information is then used to warn of possible piracy.

While the Apple and Microsoft situations are clearly not the same, it does make you wonder why Apple would not be more open about this new feature after having just gone through the same situation seven months ago with iTunes.

If you want to stop the Dashboard Advisory feature manually, you can do so by typing the following command in Terminal. (If you don't know what "sudo" please be careful or have someone more experienced do this for you).

sudo mv /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/com.apple.dashboard.advisory.fetch.plist /System/Library/

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