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ExtraBITS for 3 October 2016

In ExtraBITS this week, Apple legend Bill Atkinson explains why he’s excited about having Siri accessible via the forthcoming AirPods, The Intercept reveals a potential privacy loophole in iMessage, and Aetna is making a big investment in the Apple Watch.

Why Siri and the AirPods Excite Bill Atkinson — Bill Atkinson, the legendary developer behind the original Mac’s QuickDraw graphics system and classic Mac apps like MacPaint and HyperCard, has been waiting for Apple’s forthcoming AirPods for years. Back in 2011, he gave a Macworld Expo presentation in which he explained why Siri belongs in your ear, which the AirPods will provide. Atkinson cites the Jane artificial intelligence in Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game” series as a model for Apple to follow. As for the future of Siri on
the AirPods, Atkinson says, “Within a few years it’s going to be able to do lots of things: It will hear everything you hear, it’s going to be able to whisper in your ear.” For the moment, though, he’s realistic about Siri’s capabilities. “Siri is a bit of a joke now; it doesn’t really understand the meaning of conversations,” Atkinson admits. “That’s going to improve.”

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Apple Logs iMessage Contact Phone Numbers — Apple touts the end-to-end encryption and overall privacy of its iMessage service, but Sam Biddle of The Intercept reveals a loophole: when you enter a phone number to start a conversation in Messages, the app contacts Apple’s servers to find out whether to send the message via iMessage or SMS. The problem is that Apple’s servers currently log the contact number, the date and time, and your IP address (which could disclose your general location). Apple has verified that it keeps these logs for 30 days and will
give them to law enforcement if compelled by a court order. We hope these revelations will encourage Apple to reassess the privacy implications of this system.

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Aetna to Promote Apple Watches to Employees and Customers — In an initiative to improve the health of its employees and customers, health insurance company Aetna is buying Apple Watches for its nearly 50,000 employees and will be offering subsidized Apple Watches to select large employers and individual customers in the upcoming enrollment period, with the remaining cost to be paid via a monthly payroll deduction. Aetna will be providing iOS apps to simplify and improve the healthcare process through care management and wellness, medication adherence, and health plan
information and decision support. In addition, Aetna app users will be able to use Apple’s Wallet app to check their deductibles and pay bills. If implemented well, Aetna’s program could improve healthcare, reduce costs, and enhance the company’s ratings with its millions of members.

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