Apple released a statement on Wednesday in response to privacy concerns over location tracking data stored on the iPhone. The company said that it isn’t logging user’s locations, although it is maintaining a database of cell tower and Wi-Fi hotspot locations that are nearby.
The company came under fire when security researchers released an application that accessed an iPhone backup file loaded with location data and displayed the content on a map. In some cases, nearly a year’s worth of data was available, and unless users explicitly encrypted their iPhone backup files, the information was open to anyone with access to their computer.
Location data like this is stored on the iPhone
Senator Al Franken scheduled a Senate hearing in response to the information, the Illinois Attorney General requested a meeting with the company, and two people filed a Federal lawsuit against Apple alleging computer fraud and privacy violations.
“Apple is not tracking the location of your iPhone,” the company said in its statement. “Apple has never done so and has no plans to ever do so.”
According to Apple, the iPhone keeps a database of cell towers and Wi-Fi hotspots that are within 100 miles of its location to aid in Location Services performance when GPS signals aren’t available, or are too slow. “These calculations are performed live on the iPhone using a crowd-sourced database of Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data that is generated by tens of millions of iPhones,” Apple said.
The database is built from iPhone data that’s sent anonymously and in an encrypted form to Apple. The company also said that it can’t determine the location of individual users from the data it collects, and it doesn’t share that information with third parties.
Apple said the reason nearly a year’s worth of location information is stored on user’s iPhones is the result of a software bug it plans to fix in the coming weeks. After the update is released, the location database will include data for just the past week.
The company added that it is also collecting data for a future traffic service feature. “Apple is now collecting anonymous traffic data to build a crowd-sourced traffic database with the goal of providing iPhone users an improved traffic service in the next couple of years,” the company said.
Apple has a few more fixes planned for the iPhone, too. The company plans to address a software bug that currently allows the iPhone to continue collecting location data even when Location Services is disabled, will begin encrypting the database stored on user’s phones, and will automatically delete the cached data when Location Services is shut off.
Users worried about the location data that gets backed up on their computer during the sync process can rest easy, too, because Apple plans to stop backing up the database as part of a future update.
In hopes of putting customer’s minds at ease, the company added, “Apple will continue to be one of the leaders in strengthening personal information security and privacy.”