Rolling with Apple’s iPhone Location Logging

| MacOS KenDensed

Throw a dart at a map and chances are getting better and better that you’ll hit a place that is looking for some answers about iOS 4 and data collection. Namely, why 3G-enabled iOS devices have been keeping track of roughly where and and exactly when a device — and presumably its user or owner — have been.

Say “bon jour” and “bon journo…”

Can You Find Me Now?
Governments of both France and Italy are looking into the data collection matter. The Italian Data Protection Authority is officially looking into the matter, though that’s apparently an expansion of an ongoing investigation into how mobile applications handle personal data. Meanwhile CNIL, the French data protection agency, is said to be verifying the security issue on its own, with plans to send a quizzical letter to Apple France sometime this week.

The Korea Communications Commission is looking into potential legal violations in the “where’ve you been and when” thing…

The KCC has written to Apple asking how often iOS 4 devices collect and save location data, and does the public have the choice of either saving or deleting the information? Also, why is the info being saved, and is it being stored on Apple’s servers?

While it waits, the organization says it, too, is putting a group together to study ways to protect privacy and data on smartphones in general.

Next stop, Illinois, where both Apple and Google have been invited to explain what the Sam Hill’s goin’ on. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan would like to meet with execs from both companies to discuss the data collection and storage, and whether it’s being relayed to anyone else.

In her letter to the companies, Madigan wrote, “I want to know whether consumers have been informed of what is being tracked and stored by Apple and Google and whether those tracking and storage features can be disabled…”

Hey maybe they could carpool, since they’ve been invited to not one but two of the same parties…

In addition to the Illinois AG, the all-things-iMaker and the Search King have been called upon by Senator Al Franken “to participate in a hearing with the Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law.”

The Washington, DC hearing is set for Tuesday May 10th at 10am Eastern, 7am Pacific, which seems a horrible thing to do to people from the west coast. Either way, plan to make CSPAN your friend that morning. Why spend all of that time writing to Apple’s various offices though? Or calling meetings in the nation’s capitol? Why not write to Apple CEO Steve Jobs? He’s been known to answer an email or two, like the one sent by a MacRumors reader to Mr. Jobs that put to the exec, the following:

Steve,

Could you please explain the necessity of the passive location-tracking tool embedded in my iPhone? It’s kind of unnerving knowing that my exact location is being recorded at all times. Maybe you could shed some light on this for me before I switch to a Droid. They don’t track me.

Jobs’ reported reply:

Oh yes they do. We don’t track anyone. The info circulating around is false. Sent from my iPhone.

Let me take a moment to remind you: I’m not out to get Apple. That done, there is but one way I can see that Jobs’ answer is 100 percent on the up and up. See, we know from the past week’s stories on the location logging that the locations logged are not exact as the writer indicates.

So, letter of the letter, what the writer said was not correct, leaving Jobs free to say, “You’re wrong.” But man… it really seems you have to parse it before he’s right.

As for Android tracking people where Apple doesn’t, according to its CEO, “Android has been shown to also gather location information, but the database is limited to a much smaller list of entries and is regularly wiped by the system.”

The Wall Street Journal would apparently disagree with Jobs’ assertion that iOS 4 isn’t tracking users, mostly because they tried to get an iPhone to stop tracking them and could not. According to their report, Journal tried nixing the tracking by turning Location Services on the phone off, and found the location data was still being recorded.

Well… that’s… sigh.

Show Me the Money
While security and governmental types question and investigate, lawyers sue! This location thing all started less than a week ago, and already there’s a lawsuit alleging invasion of privacy and computer fraud.

An iPhone user in Florida and an iPad user in New York filed a suit in in Tampa last Friday, April 22nd, accusing Apple of secretly recording their movements, and asking a judge to bar the alleged data collection.

The attorney for the plaintiffs says in the filing, “We take issue specifically with the notion that Apple is now basically tracking people everywhere they go. If you are a federal marshal you have to have a warrant to do this kind of thing, and Apple is doing it without one.”

The suit seeks class action status… the plaintiffs would like refunds, since — had they known the devices were tricky tracking their every move — they never would have bought them.

Expect plenty more location logging fun in coming days.

Guess what Apple thinks it’s going to do: keep making money. Forbes has Barclays Capital analyst Ben Reitzes saying the money Apple’s spending on new stores and its North Carolina data center indicates “bullish expectations” at One Infinite Loop.

Quoting the piece: “Apple is planning on spending $5.7 billion on ‘capital expenditures in 2011, up 131 percent over 2010. It’s one of the few numbers Apple provides that detail its long-term plans, and it’s pretty spendy for a company known for its frugality.”

Frugality’s a word… I’m not sure about spendy.

Reitzes says from 2006 to 2010, Apple kept cap-ex down to three percent of revenue or less per year. Assuming they plan to continue that trend, Reitzes thinks his revenue projection for 2011 of $102.3 billion may be low since $5.7 billion is three percent of $190 billion.

Hey big spendy.

Apple In the Cloud. Or Not.
This is the headline from iPodNN: “Apple’s iTunes cloud locker may eventually carry a fee,” though it seems it should be either immediately preceded by or followed by, “Apple may eventually offer an iTunes cloud locker.”

Assuming the second, which we’re apparently doing, iPodNN cites a CNET piece that has nameless people in the business, and when I say “the business” I of course mean “the Industry.” Nameless people from nameless quarters hinted that this thing which may or may not do what we think it will… and may — by the way — not even exist the way we expect it to… yeah that… thing… could end up costing us money.

Well, where do I sign?

I want a white one…

Comments

BurmaYank

”...why 3G-enabled iOS devices have been keeping track of roughly where and exactly when a device ? and presumably its user or owner ? have been.”

Jobs? reported reply:  “...We don?t track anyone.”

...there is but one way I can see that Jobs? answer is 100 percent on the up and up… it really seems you have to parse it before he?s right.

It’s frustrating to see so many savvy techies as Ken Ray, the WSJ, etc. keep getting the facts about this iPhone “tracking” question so wrong, again and again.

One more time:  THE IPHONE’S DATABASE LOCATIONS ARE NOT TRACKED LOCATIONS.  STEVE JOBS STATED THE PURE, UNPARSED, UNAMBIGUOUS, COMPLETE TRUTH ABOUT THAT!  It was not the iPhone that created any of those database locations in the iPhone’s memory - those locations were downloaded to the iPhone from a server’s database of all regional/national locations (i.e. Apple’s or AT&T’) in anticipation that that local iPhone might immanently need to access those nearby celltowers or wifi hotspots because of where the iPhone was telling those servers it happened to be at that time, in order to save access time in the future, but the iPhone was not storing that location data on itself as it triggered that db download with its location data upload to the server.  And the timestamp for that download might have been long before the location data was used in realtime, and it might be re-used multiple times without modifying the database each time it needed to be used, so the db does not give reliable user’s timing data.

Please, people, get this straight, finally.

This & the WSJ’s stupid ignorant articles are just making worse the FUD going into all these hearings!

The Wall Street Journal would apparently disagree with Jobs? assertion that iOS 4 isn?t tracking users, mostly because they tried to get an iPhone to stop tracking them and could not…

DUH! - Of course not, because the iPhone was never tracking them in the first place; it was never creating that preprepared downloaded location data, which the WSJ misinterpreted as iPhone-generated tracking data.

...According to their report, Journal tried nixing the tracking by turning Location Services on the phone off, and found the location data was still being recorded.”

DUH… again!  Of course the location data downloads to the iPhone’s db might continue regardless whether or not Location Services on the phone was off turned”...

sflocal

I agree with you Burma.  There is so much misinformation being put out there regarding this tracking subject, it’s truly pathetic.  Start a witch hunt, insert the word “Apple” into it, and the media, politicians, trolls, Apple-haters, etc.. just roll with it as fact.

Time and time again any crucification that happened to Apple was quickly dismissed once everyone actually understood the facts and those same critics mysteriously get quiet and turn their heads the other direction in the hopes no one noticed them and will call them out as being complete morons.

As far as I’m concerned, if you’re a smartphone owner (regardless of OS affiliation) and you have used any location apps like Maps, GPS, etc, and you have the nerve to shoot your mouth off at why folks like Apple have to keep location-based data in order to provide accurate and quick location data, cancel your contract, and stick with a regular telephone.  Oh wait, the telcos can track that you’ve been using that too.

AdamC

Yes, Ken the Iphone is tracking you right to your toilet seat.

tbsteph

Parse the situation however you want, the iPhone is tracking and maintaining a fairly accurate record of where you (are) have been. Ken’s comments seem quite accurate to me.

BurmaYank

Parse the situation however you want, the iPhone is tracking and maintaining a fairly accurate record of where you (are) have been. Ken?s comments seem quite accurate to me.

Then, you & Ken are ignorant of what you are talking about here, and completely mistaken in your false belief that “...the iPhone is tracking and maintaining a fairly accurate record of where you (are) have been”.  An actual examination of the facts will certainly show that trying to reconstruct a record of where you have been from these stored locations on your iPhone will always provide an extremely false and overwhelmingly incomplete picture of where your iPhone actually was, because your iPhone actually never tracked & never recorded your locations & those stored locations on your iPhone never came from your iPhone.

This should be easy to prove:

- if Steve Jobs & I are correct that (iff GPS & MobileMe’s iPhone-finding functions have been turned off) your iPhone has never been tracking & maintaining a recording of its locations, and has instead simply been storing downloads of algorithm-suggested WiFi hotspot & celltower locations from Apple and/or AT&T server databases, which might likely be nearby (based on the locations of the WiFi hotspots & celltowers being currently used at the time of those downloads to the iPhone), but which actually are often never used at all, & which are often downloaded in batches of multiple locations which may be quite far apart but all bear the same simultaneous download timestamp, & which are often used multiple times without modifying that download’s original timestamp whenever it gets re-used, then an examination of the locations stored in an iPhone’s db will show:
1) numerous WiFi hotspot & celltower locations which are too many miles apart from each other with simultaneous timestamps,
2) numerous WiFi hotspot & celltower locations where you know you have never been, and
3) numerous conspicuously missing correctly timestamped proximate WiFi hotspot & celltower locations for every place & time you know your iPhone HAS been.

-if you, Ken & the WSJ are correct, then an examination of the locations stored in an iPhone’s db will show:
1) no WiFi hotspot & celltower locations (which are not adjacent) with simultaneous timestamps,
2) no WiFi hotspot & celltower locations where you know you have never been, and
3) nearby WiFi hotspot & celltower locations with correct timestamps for EVERY place & time you know your iPhone has EVER been. 
(But, you’re not going to find any of these last three, in fact, because Steve was telling the whole truth about no tracking.)

This question of tracking is really a black or white, yes or no question, which requires no subtle parsing to answer completely.  Let’s just put this to the test, and everybody just stop speculating & FUDding, please!

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