Marco Rubio wants Apple to shed light on data-stealing Mac app

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Senator Rubio
Rubio is upset about a Mac app that was found to be sending user data to China.
Photo: Senator Rubio

Florida Senator Marco Rubio isn’t happy about Mac apps. Specifically, he’s not happy about Mac apps stealing user data and sending it off to remote servers in China. And he’s perhaps most unhappy that Apple failed to act sooner than it did.

In a letter sent Wednesday, Rubio voiced his complaints to Apple CEO Tim Cook. In it, he asked why Apple failed to immediately act upon information it had about an app, Adware Doctor, which was behaving in a malicious manner.

“While Apple was aware of the practice, the company took weeks to inform consumers and pull the app from its platform,” a press release issued by Rubio’s office noted. “Rubio, in the letter, is requesting answers to Apple’s practices and seeks assurances that security protocols are in place to avoid a future reoccurrence.”

Problems in the App Store

The app Rubio refers to was recently discovered to be downloading users’ browsing history, and sending this to the app makers in China in the form of a zipped folder. The $4.99 app claimed to be designed to “keep your Mac safe” by getting rid of “annoying pop-up ads,” while (ironically) supposedly discovering and removing threats on macOS.

It was among the top grossing paid apps in the App Store’s utilities category. TechCrunch, which originally broke the story, noted that Apple was warned about the data pilfering several weeks previously, but had yet to pull the app. Soon after the news was published, Apple removed several apps (including this one) found to be behaving in a similar manner.

“For a company that prides itself on prioritizing user privacy and security, this delayed response is extremely disconcerting,” Rubio wrote in his letter. “It is also troubling that Apple researchers failed to uncover Adware Doctor’s covert collection and “storage” process. Over the last decade, Apple’s Mac App Store has seen more than 170 billion downloads, and your users have trusted your company to protect them from unsolicited intrusions.”

He continued that he has, “serious concerns about China’s malevolent economic behavior involving the theft of U.S. intellectual property, which costs the United States hundreds of billions of dollars annually. However, the threat of American user data being kept on a server in China is equally alarming.”

Rubio then asks a series of questions, including why Apple failed to investigate sooner, what steps it will take to change this in future, and how it plans to audit apps in a more thorough manner.