No, Apple Gatekeeper isn’t tracking every Mac app you open

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Apple Gatekeeper isn’t actually dressed in steel armor.
Apple Gatekeeper protects Mac users — it doesn’t spy on them.
Photo: PhotoMIX/Pexels CC

Apple promises it isn’t spying on Mac users to find out which applications they are using. The company was forced to make this clear after a server glitch caused users to realize that Gatekeeper in macOS sends a message to Apple whenever they open an application.

Apple Gatekeeper causes problems…

The accusations that Apple spies on users resulted from server outages on November 13, the day of the macOS Big Sur launch. Something went wrong at Apple that caused significant delays in downloading this new Mac operating system. At the same time, many Mac users faced long delays trying to open third-party applications, even though they weren’t trying to download Big Sur.

The second problem resulted from Gatekeeper, a system built into macOS designed to weed out malware. Whenever third-party software is opened, Gatekeeper checks to see if it contains known malware, and whether the developer’s signing certificate is revoked. This process is generally nearly instantaneous, but Apple’s server problems last week sometimes caused the checks to take minutes.

…but isn’t spyware

The delays drove home to Mac users that Apple was being informed of every application they opened. Especially as there were accusations that Apple was secretly tracking users via Gatekeeper’s checks for malware.

Apple denies this. “We have never combined data from these checks with information about Apple users or their devices. We do not use data from these checks to learn what individual users are launching or running on their devices,” says a newly updated Gatekeeper support document. “These security checks have never included the user’s Apple ID or the identity of their device.”

Still, the information sent in security checks isn’t encrypted. Therefore, a third party potentially could use it to spy on a user. After last week’s furor, Apple committed to encrypting these checks in the future. The company also said it will allow users to opt out of Gatekeeper’s online checks.

In addition, Apple promised “strong protections against server failure” to prevent a repetition of the problems with launching third-party software that frustrated Mac users last week.

All these changes will take place over the next year, according to the Mac-maker.