Apple’s iMessages Tracks Contact Information on a Regular Basis

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Apple has touted iMessage as a secure way to communicate between individuals, and groups, but a new report sheds a bit more light on how that might work.

Specifically, how one specific element of the back-and-forth may not be all that secret to Apple after all. According to a report from The Intercept, Apple’s servers that handle iMessage traffic are aware of who a user is talking to, or at least attempted to talk to, based on the initial ping to those servers.

Specifically, when using the stock Messages app in iOS, the app will try to figure out if the person you’re trying to contact has an iMessages account. Whether they do or do not, that information is viewable by Apple on those servers. So, even if that person doesn’t have iMessage, the contact information is there, and Apple can see who you are trying to talk to.

If that conversation does take place in iMessage, it’s back to the routine. Meaning Apple cannot see what the conversation is, from either end.

However, on top of the contact information being tracked, those servers are also able to track the IP address where the request came from, as well as the date and time. That makes it possible for Apple to track the user’s location as well.

The logs are reportedly saved for 30 days, after which the information store therein is deleted. However, it’s worth noting that iMessages, and other built-in stock Apple apps, occasionally check in with Apple’s servers, which can populate that information again in a new, 30-day cycle. Those check-ins don’t happen every time a message is sent, however, but according to The Verge, the check-ins occur on a regular basis.

The initial report’s information was gathered by a law enforcement agency based out of Florida, and is representative of the fact that, if provided with a court order, Apple can provide that tracking information to agencies.

Apple issued a statement to The Intercept, saying that when they are approached with a valid subpoena or court order, the information that can be obtained from their servers can be handed over.

“In some cases, we are able to provide data from server logs that are generated from customers accessing certain apps on their devices. We work closely with law enforcement to help them understand what we can provide and make clear these query logs don’t contain the contents of conversations or prove that any communication actually took place.”

[via The Verge; The Intercept]