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OS X Mavericks forces iOS calendar, contact syncing into iCloud

The relationship between your computer and your iDevices is about to get a lot less personal.

Title of the fast-growing thread on Apple's support forums.

Title of the fast-growing thread on Apple’s support forums.

The OS X Mavericks update gets rid of SyncServices, a proprietary framework in earlier versions of OS X that let you locally sync calendars and contacts from your iOS device to your Mac. So, if you upgrade to Mavericks, you’ll now have to use either iCloud or some other network solution to sync your devices with your computer–local syncing by connecting a device to a computer with a cable no longer exists.

Not surprisingly, there’s a growing outcry about this in Apple’s support forums. And there should be: it’s astonishing that in this climate of electronic spying and cloud insecurity, Apple would, without a word, disable local syncing and force users of Mavericks and iTunes 11 into cloud-based sync. It’s a move that literally wrests control of your contact and calendar data away from you and your devices and forces it into the cloud, for no discernible reason and with absolutely zero warning.

Hilariously, Apple notes in its support article about SyncServices that “Mavericks supports sharing your information using several network-based and cloud-based solutions.” Sharing, indeed: iCloud has significant security vulnerabilities: researcher Vladimir Katalov demonstrated just this month that, as Chester Wisniewski writes, “by simply acquiring the Apple ID and password of another user, whether they have enabled two-factor authentication or not, he can download their iPhone/iPad/iPod backups and documents from iCloud and see their pictures, music, emails, contacts, documents, presentations, spreadsheets or anything else without the victim being alerted.”

That’s because, to summarize Katalov’s research, Apple doesn’t use two-factor authentication to protect iCloud backups and documents, stores them on third-party servers, stores the encryption keys along with the encrypted files, and of course, can disclose the entire decrypted contents to law enforcement, should they come knocking.

Basically, iCloud is appallingly insecure, and Apple has just dramatically increased the volume of information that’s about to start flowing through it–names, email addresses, home addresses, and phone numbers in droves, not to mention your doctor’s visits.

And while, in theory, warrants or probable cause are required before the U.S. government and law enforcement can snoop through that data, commenters on the Apple support thread are noting that users users outside the United States may have virtually no protections for personal data that leaves their control. And, as one points out, “I legally have to maintain control over all data from my business contacts, or might get sued over EU privacy law violations either by my clients or by competitors.”

Fortunately (this is sarcasm here), if you care about maintaining local control of your contact and calendar information, the workaround is simple! All you have to do is upgrade to OS X Mavericks Server for $19.99 and then set up a local CardDAV and CalDAV server to enable local network sync between your devices. It couldn’t be simpler! Of course, you don’t have to do it with Mavericks, there are plenty of helpful tutorials for setting up a local sync server with something like Debian, and heck, there are even a few free tools out there to make it easier. That’s a relief, right?

The alternative to those alternatives, according to Apple, is simply to revert to a previous version of OS X. Discussions on Apple’s forums about why the change may have occurred and any security implications are, according to moderators, outside the Terms of Service of the support forums and therefore prohibited.

These are the lengths that paying customers have to go to in order to keep their own data under local control when all they want to do is keep calendar and contact information synced across multiple devices? By the way, don’t post in the support forums if you’re outraged like you should be. Send direct feedback here.

Now there is one positive note. On Windows, SyncServices is what powers local syncing through iTunes. Interestingly, it appears that local syncing is still possible on a PC, using iTunes 11. So, maybe Apple just wants you to … get a PC!

Hat tip: The Verge

23 Comments

  1. Mademoiselle
    April 20, 2014 - Reply

    I use a program called phone view: i can even download all my ams conversation with it, could access the system files if i wanted to fiddle with them, etc.

  2. Allen K. Ream
    March 23, 2014 - Reply

    I’m outraged by this development. I never would have upgraded to Mavericks, if I had know that local syntonization would be disabled.

  3. Mir
    March 21, 2014 - Reply

    Apparently the 11.1.6 beta of iTunes restores offline functionality to Contacts and Calendar sync.

  4. Maria
    March 12, 2014 - Reply

    For syncing contacts and calendars locally, give Eltima SyncMate a try. It’s in beta testing right now, and for the moment, it seems to be working okay. http://mac.eltima.com/sync-mac.html

  5. Bill Duncan
    March 11, 2014 - Reply

    Actually, I wouldn’t mind being forced to sync through iCloud … IF IT WORKED. It doesn’t. My contacts suddenly disappear for no reason. My calendars suddenly disappear for no reason. Back-ups don’t work because Apple assumes that iCloud has the latest information and they delete your reloads.

    I’ve been using Apple products exclusively since 1988. I am now ready to start looking at other products.

  6. Alastair Brown
    March 10, 2014 - Reply

    I bought a Mac Pro E5, and then discovered I could no longer hard-wire sync. I bought a Mac Mini, and OS X Server, but that was fraught and troublesome. I downgraded my Mac Mini to 10.8.5, and that is where it will stay – WOW;
    P.S. Both the Genius Bar, and Apple Care pretended that as of the end of January they had never heard of this problem !!

  7. HA in Brooklyn
    March 9, 2014 - Reply

    Wow, Molly, thanks – - this lays it out pretty well. VERY SCARY and very annoying. It’s why I am NOT upgrading to Mavericks and NOT upgrading to iOS 7…

  8. Ron-G
    March 1, 2014 - Reply

    I was infuriated when I found out about this issue a few months ago.When I walked into the New York UWS Apple store, and spoke to a Taylor Rivelli and another sales associate about this, they completely denied knowing anything of its existence…..Way to go Apple!!!!!!!..Apple had better get its act together or a huge portion of their customer base is going to walk…..at least for their phones. And, we all know Apple is making the lions share of its money on those smaller devices…..Wake up Apple!!!…..this story belongs in front of CNN….unless it has already been there, and I missed it……

  9. January 22, 2014 - Reply

    Here’s a simple solution on the App Store. It’s called “DirectSync” and it lets you copy your contacts from your Mac to your iOS device and vice versa with vCard export files using iTunes “File Sharing”. It works directly using your USB cable from your Mac to your iOS device. Just US $0.99. Runs on all your iOS devices.

  10. January 14, 2014 - Reply

    I moved my IPAD and IPHONE sync to my MAC because the iTunes 11 on WIn7 64 bit crashes like crazy… and then found out I CANT SYNC without ICLOUD ?

    The Apple mantra used to be THINK DIFFERENT… this conjures up images of that 1984 TV commercial again…

    Apple you, better start figuring out you cannot push people into the cloud, you better keep supporting local functionality.. AND I STILL WANT A MEMORY CARD SLOT ON MY IPAD !

  11. Xian
    December 25, 2013 - Reply

    We are a small but fast growing concern. We need a “One Note solution” on Mac OS X ML/Mavs and iOS7. Because of operations in remote
    regions, we would prefer wireless sync between devices, not iCloud. USB sync will be preferred, though.

    Mac’s Notes is quite slick but also not even remotely comparably to MS OneNote.

    Does Evernote allow for this and how much will it cost to equip 5 users, each with iPhone 5/5S and Macbook Pro with Mountain Lion or Mavericks?

    I am migrating from a Linux/Windows environment to Mac only. I sorely miss MS OneNote!

    iOS7 disappoints by not allowing Mac Notes to sync via iTunes – not via USB, not via Bluetooth and not via wifi. Also, between OSX ML and iOS7, it tells me that my iPhone 5 is an “unsupported device” when trying to pair via Bluetooth.

    Steve Wozniak warned against this but does anyone listen?

    Perhaps I should have stayed with Windows 8 and Companionlink and used a Lumia 1020 instead??

  12. John Anonymous
    November 16, 2013 - Reply

    Use of Google is not an alternative. They keep everything in their cloud where NSA can spy on, though Google seems to resist a little bit more than Apple against the secret court’s requests.

  13. Grock
    November 11, 2013 - Reply

    Along with sending feedback to apple, people should sign the petition to Bring the local Sync back for Mavericks.

    http://www.change.org/petitions/apple-bring-the-100-offline-sync-for-ios-back

    It’s been growing steadily as more and more users “upgrade” to Mavericks and realise they’ve been um… downgraded.

    Is this apple’s VISTA?

  14. Ken M
    November 7, 2013 - Reply

    The fact that we are FORCED to upload all personal information to the iCloud (all contacts, calendar info, etc) in order to have the same information on our iPad or iPhone, is outrageous. I had a very heated discussion yesterday with AppleCare on this subject. I was told that the only way I could go back to local cable syncronization was to completely wipe and do a clean re-install Mountain Lion or previous operating system to my computer’s Time Machine backup. How about them Apples!????? What is even more nuts is that their attitude was ‘Well, that’s how they’re doing it now’. It was as if Moses had come down from the mountain and delivered the tablets. They were not really very caring about the fact that in this age of lack of privacy, that we’re one step away from NSA getting ALL our personal information, contacts, doctor’s appointments. Their attitude is just ‘suck it up, we know what’s best for you. Take your medicine and swallow’.

  15. Barrie
    November 3, 2013 - Reply

    I too am outraged at this.
    If Apple start making us use iCloud for docs produced in Pages, Numbers and others it will really stink, not to mention up my monthly ISP data usage.

    Katalov also mentioned that Apple’s iCloud uses Microsoft and Google cloud storage which were hacked by the NSA.

  16. November 3, 2013 - Reply

    I have three iOS devices and as I added each device to iCloud this weekend I was required to know the ID, password + create a special PIN for some reason and then authenticate on another iCloud device had to approve it and the I get an alert to say another device was sharing my iCloud (or was that all just for iMessage? maybe I’m confused).

    try it, with an old iPhone and see what happens

    P.S. you don’t have to use iCloud you can use google (which I do for my calendar coz it shares better).

  17. schmitz
    November 1, 2013 - Reply

    “Perhaps the NSA paid Apple so Mavericks would be free for all and as a result they gain access to lots more data.”

    Absolutely agree. This is ridiculous. Apple shame on you!

  18. Dave D
    October 31, 2013 - Reply

    I see this as Apple’s drive to generate dependence on their services, and then start charging for it. They want control so they can profit more from their customer base. The privacy issue is huge, but they are hardly doing this to invade anyone’s. They are for profit only. The Government will certainly take advantage of the opportunity, and Apple’s greed has made us an easier target.

  19. EA
    October 29, 2013 - Reply

    If I setup a windows VM with iTunes and Sync my devices with the Windows, I wonder if there is a way to propagate that data to the Mac. It would be nice if someone could write some sort of conduit that moves calendar and contacts data between the mac and a windows VM with iTunes.

  20. October 28, 2013 - Reply

    Wow. Glad I haven’t yet upgraded my desktop. I have been using Google to sync addresses (yeah, I know…pick your poison), but I still depend on desktop syncing for organizing contacts into groups like “car sync” for quicker lookup in the car.

  21. Scott
    October 28, 2013 - Reply

    Perhaps the NSA paid Apple so Mavericks would be free for all and as a result they gain access to lots more data.

  22. Josh765
    October 27, 2013 - Reply

    While I understand Apple is constantly trying to push people to new technology (eliminating the disc drive in all but one of their computers)

    I agree with you now is NOT the time to do so. Exactly as you say, there are so many parts of the world that information is not safe unless stored locally.

    In addition, out of curiosity, since the NSA stores all this data, don’t only US citizens have the protection and anyone not a US citizen can be easily or at least more easily have their files searched?

  23. Allister Jenks
    October 27, 2013 - Reply

    Easy! Just use Google. *ducks* Or Microsoft. *runs*

    Also, you missed one of the easy alternatives – set up an Exchange server.

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