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Ever had the feeling that you were being watched? Well if you own an iPhone there is a chance that you may have been. A recent New York Times report has shown that Uber tracked users’ iPhones, even after the app was deleted.

Uber exploited a loophole in Apple’s system that allowed them to pinpoint individual phones . This culminated in a meeting between Travis Kalanick and Tim Cook. The Apple boss threatened to pull the app from the apple store unless Uber ceased tracking its users. Losing access to the App Store would have crippled the ride sharing giant.

How did they do it?

Uber tracked users by inserting code into their app that allowed them to  identify phones that deleted the Uber app and then subsequently re-installed it. The tracking relied upon a technique called “fingerprinting” that let Uber identify a phone. They then kept this information and looked for phones that re-installed the app at a later date. Using this method Uber was able to identify an individual phone even it had been wiped clean because the “fingerprint” is persistent.

While Apple originally used Unique Device Identifiers, an ID that persisted across installs, they were phased out as consumers became more concerned about privacy. Apple has replaced these with other trackers, such as advertising IDs and Vendor IDs. None of these replacements persists across devices. So what identifier was Uber using if not UDIDs?

According to Will Strafach of the Sudo Security group; Uber secretly included code in their App that allowed them to grab information from a device’s directory that they would normally be unable to access. This allowed them to ascertain a device’s serial number, which would persist across installs, even if the phone was completely wiped. This then gave Uber a unique identifier with which to track phones, even if their app was removed or the phone was formatted.

Uber claimed that it was necessary for them to track users in order to combat fraud. It prevented a practice where drivers would register themselves on multiple phones and request large numbers of expensive rides in order to boost their bonuses.

Why was Apple angry?

The move was a blatant violation of Apple’s privacy policies and at no point where users explicitly informed that their phones information was being collected in this manner. To make matters worse, it appears that Uber was fully aware they were breaching Apples terms. Uber software engineers took steps to hide the subterfuge by Geo-fencing Apples Cupertino headquarters.

The trick was eventually spotted by Apple engineers from another office which culminated in Mr Cook summoning Mr Kalanick to the meeting. Apples threat was very real, if they had pulled Uber’s app from their store it would have crippled and likely destroyed the ride sharing company.

While Uber agreed to stop the practice they do still use some form of fingerprinting in order to combat fraud but stress that they do not track individual users or their locations if they have deleted the ap.

What does this mean for Uber?

This is just the latest in a string of scandals for the embattled ride sharing giant. They have lost numerous execs, been kicked out of Italy and are embroiled in a sexual harassment scandal. While Uber will likely escape from these revelations mostly unscathed it is the last thing the company needs at this point. Consumers have become more concerned about their privacy in recent years and the news that Uber tracked users will likely damage their confidence.

The fact that Uber almost lost access to Apple’s App store further highlights that Mr Kalanick is willing to ignore any rules if he believes it will help him win.  Even if he risks destroying his company’s future.

You'll find me wandering around the Science sections mostly, excitedly waving my arms around while jumping up and down about the latest science and tech news. I am also occasionally found in the gaming section, trying to convince everyone else that linux is the future of the computer gaming.

Apps

X has decided to remove the option for premium users to hide checkmarks

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Last year, social network X, owned by Elon Musk, introduced a new feature that allows paid users to conceal their checkmarks from other users. Currently, the company is notifying users about the upcoming removal of the feature.

Similar to many decisions made by X, there is currently no set timeline for when the hide your checkmark feature will be removed.

Before sending notifications to users, the company took down the part of the X Premium help page that explained how to hide the checkmark feature last week. The basic level of subscribers couldn’t use the tool.

If you pay for Premium or Premium+, you can hide your markings from view on your account. There will be no sign of the checkmark on your page or posts. “The checkmark might still show up somewhere, and some features might still let other people know that you have a subscription,” the description said.

The social network started giving blue checkmarks to people with more than 2,500 “verified” followers earlier this month. The company also began giving these users the Premium subscription and users with more than 5,000 confirmed followers the Premium+ subscription.

Musk got rid of the heritage verification checkmark last year after making a subscription service for it. But the company quickly put the blue badge back on top accounts. The proof program is basically going back to what it did at first, which was to check the identities of famous people.

 

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Apps

WhatsApp is testing the Meta AI robot in India and other places

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Users in India and other markets are currently testing Meta AI, a chatbot with a sizable language model, on WhatsApp. This move indicates the company’s interest in leveraging its extensive user base to expand its AI capabilities.

According to feedback from users in India and select markets, including the U.S., the company has started testing the AI chatbot. India has over 500 million WhatsApp users, making it the largest market for the instant messaging service.

Meta officially announced the move in a statement. “Our generative AI-powered experiences are currently in different stages of development, and we are conducting limited public testing for a range of them,” a spokesperson from Meta informed.

In late September, Meta unveiled Meta AI, its general-purpose assistant. Our AI chatbot is specifically designed to provide direct answers to user queries during chats. Additionally, it has the capability to generate photorealistic images based on text prompts.

With a user base of over 2 billion monthly active users, WhatsApp provides Meta with an exceptional chance to expand its AI offerings on a global scale. With the integration of Meta AI into WhatsApp, Facebook can showcase its cutting-edge language model and image generation capabilities to a massive user base, potentially surpassing its rivals in terms of reach.

Earlier this week, the company confirmed that it will be launching Llama 3, the next version of its open source large language model, within the next month.

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iOS

Apple News is now doing a trial of a game that bears some resemblance to NYT Connections

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Apple News is now conducting a trial of a new game called Quartiles for iOS 17.5. The objective of the game is for players to arrange a grid of 20 syllables into 5 words, each consisting of four syllables. The New York Times’ most recent successful release, Connections, has a striking resemblance to the UI of Quartiles, as Gadget Hacks has noted. Did Apple News plagiarize or copy the New York Times?

Quartiles differ from connections in that they do not involve the organization of 16 words into four contiguous groups of four. It can be compared to Boggle, as it evaluates your skill in constructing words from their constituent parts. However, the act of discovering sets of four has become particularly captivating to us lately. Currently, Connections has surpassed all other games and is currently the second most popular game in the Times, following Wordle.

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Apple introduced crossword puzzles and small crossword puzzles as a new feature exclusively for Apple News+ subscribers last year. Despite the unconventional nature of a news aggregator investing in gaming, the New York Times has found success in doing so. In 2022, the newspaper acquired the game Wordle for an undisclosed amount in the range of seven figures. This acquisition resulted in the addition of “tens of millions” of new users within a single quarter. According to recent data from the Times, consumers have been dedicating a greater amount of time to playing the newspaper’s games compared to reading the news.

Apple is currently conducting beta testing for Quartiles; however, this does not guarantee its inclusion in iOS 17.5. Considering the fact that the New York Times is discreetly operating a gaming studio at present, it would be advantageous for Apple to provide a selection of fresh, preferably square-shaped games.

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