Apple Logs Your iMessage Contacts And May Share Them With Police. iMessage Content Is Safe

Some iPhone users have asked about the differences between the green and blue iMessage bubbles. Green means that the message will be sent as a standard SMS message through your phone company, to users of other cell phone brands or iPhone users who have iMessage turned off. When it’s blue it gets sent via Apple’s own system. Privacy regarding Apple’s iMessage service is less clear. Yes, they are logging iMessage contacts for security reason but the content in the message will not be logged anywhere even in iCloud. From what we understand, iMessages are encrypted and can only open and read by intended recipient. Here is the technical explanation as reported on by the Intercept.

The Intercept reported:

APPLE PROMISES THAT your iMessage conversations are safe and out of reach from anyone other than you and your friends. But according to a document obtained by The Intercept, your blue-bubbled texts do leave behind a log of which phone numbers you are poised to contact and shares this (and other potentially sensitive metadata) with law enforcement when compelled by court order.

Every time you type a number into your iPhone for a text conversation, the Messages app contacts Apple servers to determine whether to route a given message over the ubiquitous SMS system, represented in the app by those déclassé green text bubbles, or over Apple’s proprietary and more secure messaging network, represented by pleasant blue bubbles, according to the document. Apple records each query in which your phone calls home to see who’s in the iMessage system and who’s not.

This log also includes the date and time when you entered a number, along with your IP address — which could, contrary to a 2013 Apple claim that “we do not store data related to customers’ location,” identify a customer’s location. Apple is compelled to turn over such information via court orders for systems known as “pen registers” or “trap and trace devices,” orders that are not particularly onerous to obtain, requiring only that government lawyers represent they are “likely” to obtain information whose “use is relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation.” Apple confirmed to The Intercept that it only retains these logs for a period of 30 days, though court orders of this kind can typically be extended in additional 30-day periods, meaning a series of monthlong log snapshots from Apple could be strung together by police to create a longer list of whose numbers someone has been entering.

The Intercept received the document about Apple’s Messages logs as part of a larger cache originating from within the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Electronic Surveillance Support Team, a state police agency that facilitates police data collection using controversial tools like the Stingray, along with conventional techniques like pen registers. The document, titled “iMessage FAQ for Law Enforcement,” is designated for “Law Enforcement Sources” and “For Official Use Only,” though it’s unclear who wrote it or for what specific audience — metadata embedded in the PDF cites an author only named “mrrodriguez.” (The term “iMessages” refers to an old name for the Messages app still commonly used to refer to it.)

Phone companies routinely hand over metadata about calls to law enforcement in response to pen register warrants. But it’s noteworthy that Apple is able to provide information on iMessage contacts under such warrants given that Apple and others have positioned the messaging platform as a particularly secure alternative to regular texting.

The document reads like a fairly standard overview that one might forward to a clueless parent (questions include “How does it work?” and “Does iMessage use my cellular data plan?”), until the final section, “What will I get if I serve Apple with a [pen register/tap and trace] court order for an iMessage account?”: apple Apple Logs Your iMessage Contacts And May Share Them With Police. iMessage Content Is Safe

This is a lot of bullet points to say one thing: Apple maintains a log of phone numbers you’ve entered into Messages and potentially elsewhere on an Apple device, like the Contacts app, even if you never end up communicating with those people. The document implies that Messages transmits these numbers to Apple when you open a new chat window and select a contact or number with whom to communicate, but it’s unclear exactly when these queries are triggered, and how often — an Apple spokesperson confirmed only that the logging information in the iMessage FAQ is “generally accurate,” but declined to elaborate on the record.

You can read the rest of the article on The Intercept website. 


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