Apple phasing out developer access to UDID tracking with iOS 5

Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) is warning registered developers it will limit their access to unique device identifiers [UDID] across iPhones and iPads with the release of the forthcoming iOS 5. Apple disclosed the policy update in a recent update to the iOS 5 documentation, stating on its website that UDID access "has been superseded and may become unsupported in the future" but adding developers may still create identifiers unique to each individual application. Some developers, social gaming platforms and mobile advertising networks leverage UDIDs in iOS devices to collect personal data about consumers, even building detailed profiles outlining how they use applications or respond to promotions.

It is uncertain whether Apple itself will stop relying on UDIDs as unique identifiers for services like iAd and Game Center--nor it is clear why Apple made the decision to phase out UDID access to its partners. But the smart money says the move is Apple's response to user privacy questions that have dogged the company since earlier this year, when British researchers reported that iPhone and iPod devices had recorded location and time-stamp data since the mid-2010 release of the iOS 4 software update, effectively creating a comprehensive log of all user movement and activities during that time. Apple later explained that iOS devices are gathering location information to maintain a database of Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers in the user's vicinity, enabling an iPhone to more rapidly and accurately calculate its location when requested; it also stated that iOS data collection was the result of a software bug it has since patched.

Fallout from the controversy ultimately led to Apple and archrival Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) appearing before the U.S. Senate to defend their mobile device location tracking policies, but lawmakers expressed skepticism over whether the companies are adequately protecting user privacy. Two bills introduced in mid-June in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate--the Location Privacy Protection Act and Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance (GPS) Act--propose new restrictions on how both government agencies and private firms can collect and implement user location data, mandating that Apple, Google and their software developer partners obtain express consent from smartphone and tablet users before sharing information with third parties.

In related news, Apple has issued iOS 5 beta 6 to developers, promising bug fixes as well as improved stability compared to previous iterations. Developers may obtain iOS 5 beta 6 as an over-the-air update or as an iTunes install, although Apple warns that anyone who selects the OTA option should first wipe their device in order to negate potential compatibility issues. Also new: A disclaimer warning users that beta versions of iOS 5 are intended for developers only.

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