Apple says it only temporarily gathers data from Spotlight in Yosemite

21 Oct 2014

The Yosemite homescreen

Consumer tech titan Apple has moved to calm dissent over revelations its new Spotlight search feature in its new Mac OS X Yosemite operating system gathers data on users’ searches.

Spotlight search, which was updated with Yosemite, provides users with a range of information from third-party sources, such as Wikipedia, Yelp and Microsoft’s Bing to enhance their search results and be more useful.

Spotlight searches the users’ own hard drive, as well as expands the search to these third-party sources.

However, users new to Yosemite will be met with a pop-up that discloses Spotlight gathers location data and puts them into unique unifying codes and sends the search data back to Apple.

The purpose of this is to make search results more relevant to the user and is no different to what Google or Bing already does.

According to The Washington Post, the news has nevertheless raised a bit of hue and cry; prompting Apple to explain the purpose of the data gathering and to emphasise it does not interfere with the Holy Grail that is privacy.

“We are absolutely committed to protecting our users’ privacy and have built privacy right into our products,” Apple said in a statement.

“For Spotlight Suggestions we minimize the amount of information sent to Apple. Apple doesn’t retain IP addresses from users’ devices. Spotlight blurs the location on the device so it never sends an exact location to Apple.

“Spotlight doesn’t use a persistent identifier, so a user’s search history can’t be created by Apple or anyone else. Apple devices only use a temporary anonymous session ID for a 15-minute period before the ID is discarded.

“We also worked closely with Microsoft to protect our users’ privacy. Apple forwards only commonly searched terms and only city-level location information to Bing. Microsoft does not store search queries or receive users’ IP addresses.

“You can also easily opt out of Spotlight Suggestions, Bing or Location Services for Spotlight.”

How to disable Yosemite Spotlight Suggestions

Ostensibly, the purpose of the data gathering, its encryption and ultimately its removal is to sharpen Spotlight’s search results and ultimately be more useful.

However, if you’ve been shaken by the very thought of data being gathered in the same way as Google or Bing, then there are a few simple steps you can take to help protect your privacy:

  • To disable ‘Spotlight Suggestions’ and ‘Bing Web Searches’ just go to System Preferences and under Spotlight uncheck both under Spotlight > Search Results.
  • The same suggestions features also feature in the new Safari and that can also be disabled by going to Safari Preferences and under Search uncheck ‘Include Spotlight Suggestions’.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years