Apple on iPhone Privacy: We Aren’t Tracking You

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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.

iPhone location tracking mapLocation 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.”

Comments

Nemo

It seems that I, for one, was too hasty in relying on those researchers’ report to condemn Apple for tracking users’ locations on the iPhone.

However, we haven’t yet heard anything from Google about whether Android phones track their users’ respective locations, and if they do, why they do it, how that location data is collected, where it is stored, how that location data is used, and to whom, if anyone, that location data is distributed. 

Will Google be able to make the same categorical denial, as Apple has for its iOS, that Android isn’t collecting users’ location data and with as full an explanation as Apple has given about whatever location data Android does collect?

brett_x

That’s the kind of response I was hoping for. It’s just too bad it took this long for Apple to issue it.

And yes, as Nemo pointed out, there is some categorical denial that I’m fairly sure that Google will not be able to follow suit with. (But I wouldn’t expect that in buying a Google powered phone, they wouldn’t sell my information to other parties. It’s what they do. )

geoduck

The best part is the upcoming patch will do what I wanted to see.
Reduces the size of the data that’s kept
Stops backing up the cache.
Deletes it completely when Location Services is turned off.

Now lets just hope the patch comes out fairly soon, before the hearings at least. I’d love to see Apple be able to say the problem has been fixed while Google hems and haws.

prl53

I believe Apple took the time to provide a rational response instead of just blurting out something. As far as what they store on my iPhone or in iTunes, I really don’t care. I don’t care if Apple knows where my iPhone has been. That data isn’t what worries me. It’s everything else that’s on my iPhone, which is why I use a password to try and secure part of it.

I am going to download that app to get the cell tower information. I’ve been trying to find legitimate sources for this information but except for T-Mobile, you have to rely on people submitting observational data. Now, I can get the coordinates for the few cell towers around me to see which ones actually have AT&T transceivers.

mhikl

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in the silence of our steps across the Apple airwaves.

And whether or not it has been clear to all, no doubt the Apple universe is unfolding as it should; for as we expect, in buying an iPhone, Apple would never sell my information to gain further profit.

Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

(Now we wait to see how fast Sir Henry can spot a wee bit of plagiarism afoot.)

Lee Dronick

Now we wait to see how fast Sir Henry can spot a wee bit of plagiarism afoot

Your getting Despairata smile

I am pleased that Apple has finally shown us the long form track certificate.

mhikl

Damn, he’s fast.

I never doubted Apple for one minute. The time is right for dancin’ in the street.

daemon

However, we haven?t yet heard anything from Google about whether Android phones track their users? respective locations, and if they do, why they do it, how that location data is collected, where it is stored, how that location data is used, and to whom, if anyone, that location data is distributed.

http://www.google.com/mobile/latitude/

Google can track your location and will do so if you opt-in to their Latitude service, however history is supposed to be only available to you, the user.

I sometimes wish I had turned on Latitude years ago so I could watch my movement patterns in Seattle…

ibuck

On Apr 25th, Gawker posted a story entitled “Apple Patent Reveals Extensive Stalking Plans” where they say…

“The spying iPhone is no accident. A recent Apple patent application reveals that the location-tracking dossiers accumulated in iPhones are to be used in apps from Apple and any number of other companies… [and] explains how Apple can amass and use location data in the very ways Apple critics fear. “

http://gawker.com/#!5795442/apple-patent-reveals-extensive-stalking-plans

Has this story now been discredited?

Lee Dronick

Damn, he?s fast.

It was from Desiderata, but I did a play on “Your getting desperate” This too is from the poem and is appropriate:

“...Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism…”

I never doubted Apple for one minute. The time is right for dancin? in the street.

“Callin’ out around the world, are you ready for a brand new leet ?
iPhone 5 is here and the time is right for tracking? in the street.
Trackin? in Chicago (tracking? in the street)
Down in New Orleans (trackin? in the street)
In New York City (unless your on AT&T)”

Intruder

I much prefer:

Go placidly amid the noise and waste, and remember what comfort there may be in owning a piece thereof.

Hagen

Ye comparable quote from the Deteriorata! (courtesy National Lampoon)

Just remember the world loves a scandal, and they can be found everywhere… especially involving our favorite Fruit Company.
And sometimes those scandals are actually true…

archimedes

Hmm, if it’s not Apple that’s tracking iPhones…

http://www.apple.com/mobileme/features/find-my-iphone.html

I guess it must be AT&T?

https://familymap.wireless.att.com/finder-att-family/welcome.htm

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