Apple has removed a third-party application that was gathering user-submitted lock-screen passwords for what its creator claims were research purposes.
The software, dubbed "Big Brother Camera Security," was created by developer Daniel Amitay to serve as an alternative to Apple's lock-screen security. Users could run it when leaving their iPhone or iPod Touch unattended, and the application would require an iOS-style passcode to resume. If a user entered the incorrect password, the software would take a photo of that person, and if the app was exited, an alarm would sound.
A side feature, added by Amitay in the most recent software update, began sending him user-entered passcodes, which were anonymized. Amitay on Monday posted the results of that data, which was made up of 204,508 recorded passcodes, to show what some of the most common passwords were. The move did not go over well in Cupertino.
"Got a call from Apple last night regarding the removal of Big Brother from the App Store," Amitay wrote in a blog post today. "Apparently, Apple believed that I was 'surreptitiously harvesting user passwords,'" Amitay wrote.
Amitay says he's appealing the company's decision on the grounds that the application was only gathering data from his own app, and not the phone's lock screen, which Apple does not provide an API for, nor would it likely to be approve as part of its review process. Amitay added that that app was anonymizing that user data, and putting it toward "improving effectiveness of future updates."
Apple did not respond to a request for comment.
Apple, along with other device providers, have come under scrutiny by the U.S. government, along with advocacy groups, over what's done with user data and information. U.S. Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) in particular has made it a personal mission to get Apple and Google to require third-party applications to be more transparent about what data is being collected, as well as if it's being transmitted elsewhere.
Amitay said he believes his data collection methods are covered under a section of the iTunes end user license agreement (EULA) that says data collection is fine as long as it's made anonymous, and aims to improve the quality of the application through future updates.
"Perhaps this was a misunderstanding on Apple's part, or perhaps I missed a developer agreement where I'm not able to publish certain statistics (?), but I'm hoping to get this worked out and have Big Brother back on the App Store," Amitay wrote.