Apple widget checks raise eyebrows

Some Mac users express concern about a new feature in the latest Mac OS X that sends information back to Apple.

A few Mac users are concerned about a feature in the latest update to Mac OS that directs their computers to check in with Apple Computer's servers on a regular basis without the user's knowledge or permission.

Apple released an update to Mac OS last week that fixed a few bugs and added some features. One feature Apple added was described as the ability to verify that a widget was an authentic program. Widgets are small software programs that provide Mac users with little bits of useful information, like the weather report or stock tickers.

Some bloggers have become concerned that Apple is collecting information without their authorization, after the recent furor caused by Microsoft's Windows Genuine Advantage Notification program. Microsoft inserted a prerelease program in a regular Windows update that checks Windows PCs to make sure they are running a genuine copy of the operating system, but the company included that beta feature without telling users and has since posted instructions on how to remove it after a backlash.

Apple's Dashboard Advisory verification software was designed as a security feature, a company representative said. "Apple takes protecting user privacy very seriously. The Dashboard Advisory feature is a security tool that ensures that the correct version of a widget has been downloaded from a third-party site and no personal information is transmitted back to Apple," the company said in a statement.

Dashboard Advisory looks at just widgets, not the rest of the operating system. Widgets available on Apple's Downloads page are actually hosted by the companies that developed the widgets, not Apple. The verification feature is designed to ensure that the widget advertised on Apple's Download page is the same widget that gets installed on a Mac, or to prevent someone from spoofing a link to trick a user into downloading a different program.

A Mac with the latest version of Mac OS, version 10.4.7, sends a HTTP (hypertext transfer protocol) GET command to Apple's servers to verify that the widget is authentic, the company representative said. There is no way to turn off the transmission, which takes place about every eight hours, and the user is not prompted before the transmission is made.

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