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Apple Is Accused of Kowtowing to Russia and Violating User Privacy

December 7, 2019, 11:00 AM UTC

Apple doesn’t usually make a lot of news the week after Thanksgiving. But this year is different — and not necessarily in a good way.

The week started off with Apple’s responding to criticism about revising its digital map to show that Crimea, recognized by most of the world as in Ukraine, is now part of Russia. Many industry observers said Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose army invaded Crimea five years ago, had “played” Apple and that the company had bowed to political pressure. Apple said it would take a “deeper look” at the matter.

But that wasn’t the only controversy. A security researcher this week found that Apple tracks an iPhone’s location, even when the user had turned the device off. The company said it would add a new feature that gives users more control over that tracking, but privacy advocates were unsure whether that’s enough to safeguard user privacy.

Meanwhile, several news reports purported to lay out Apple’s product plans, including for 2020. Another detailed how Samsung is plotting to take the fight to the iPhone next year.

Read on for more about what happen this week:

Where is Crimea?

Apple last week decided to redraw the Apple Maps that users in Russia to see to include Crimea. For users outside of Russia, the map shows that Crimea is still part of Ukraine. After criticism that it had bowed to Russian government pressure, Apple this week said that it’s committed to “taking a deeper look” at how it will address border disputes in its maps. Apple added that it made the change in response to a Russian law requiring that Crimea be shown as being part of Russia.

Apple’s location-tracking efforts

Apple has touted the control users have over how apps track their locations in iOS. But this week, security researcher KrebsOnSecurity found that Apple’s mobile operating system still periodically collects user location information, even after users have turned off location tracking. Apple said in a statement to news site TechCrunch this week that it tracks location because of regulatory requirements that ban the use of certain technologies in unidentified government-chosen locations. Apple needs to know where a phone is to determine whether to turn off those technologies. In the future, however, Apple promised to add a toggle in a future iOS update that would allow users to turn off all location tracking.

Plenty of new iPhones in the works

Apple will release four new iPhones next year, TF International Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo wrote in a research note this week. He said that all four models will have the same organic light-emitting diode (OLED) screen technology that Apple already uses in the iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max. OLED screens offer brighter colors and more accurate levels of black. They’re also thinner than liquid crystal display alternatives, allowing Apple to make slimmer devices. Perhaps most surprisingly, Kuo, who has one of the better track records predicting Apple’s plans, said that Apple would eliminate all ports in at least one iPhone model planned for 2021—making it the first iPhone without a port. If so, users would need to go wireless— from charging to connecting headphones to the device.

What’s that popping sound?

Some 16-inch MacBook Pro owners are reporting a strange popping sound coming from the notebook’s speakers, according to a report from AppleInsider. The Apple-tracking site found a growing number of people in Apple Support forums saying that MacBook Pro speakers sporadically make a “popping” noise during use. Some of those users brought their devices to Apple Store for repairs, but staff didn’t know how to do it. Apple has yet to comment about the popping sound, and it’s unclear how widespread the problem is. Apple’s 16-inch MacBook Pro went on sale last month.

The best Apple apps of the year

Apple released its list of the year’s best apps across its many operating systems, including iOS, macOS, and tvOS. Apple chose Spectre Camera, an app that uses artificial intelligence to automatically improve images, as the year’s best iPhone app. The top iPad app honors went to sketch design program Moleskine, while the best Mac app was book-publishing tool Affinity Publisher. The Explorers, an app that aims to capture photos and videos of the natural world, was selected as the best Apple TV app. Apple’s list was decided by its App Store editors and is not based on the number of downloads, though popularity does factor into the final decision.

Apple Music Awards honor Billie Eilish

This week, Apple announced its first Apple Music Awards, which honors artists in five categories, including artist of the year, breakout artist of the year, and album of the year. The 17-year-old singer-songwriter Billie Eilish dominated this year’s awards, earning artist of the year honors, as well as album of the year. Singer, songwriter, and rapper Lizzo was named the breakout artist of the year. For a full list of winners, click here.

One more thing…

Samsung wants to take the camera fight to Apple next year, Bloomberg reported this week. Samsung plans a Galaxy S11 smartphone for early 2020 that uses four rear cameras, including one with a 108-megapixel sensor. The report says Samsung believes it’s trailing Apple’s iPhones in camera quality and wants to address that in 2020.

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