Apple still has no official statements on the issue of iPhone location tracking, but that hasn’t stopped Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs from reportedly throwing down a few words of his own.
A reader of Macrumors claims to have e-mailed Jobs with concerns:
“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.”
To which Jobs apparently responded:
“Oh yes they do. We don’t track anyone. The info circulating around is false.”
That statement requires some parsing. The issue with the iPhone is twofold: First, there’s the garden-variety location tracking that goes on when you enable location-based services such as Foursquare or “Current Location” in Maps. On Android and iOS, Google and Apple respectively collect this data, which is anonymous and not tied to personal information. Apple confirmed this behavior in a letter to Congress (obtained by Wired) last year.
The other issue — the one that caused this whole brouhaha — is a local file that reveals a lengthy history of the user’s approximate whereabouts, using cell phone tower triangulation. This file is stored on the iPhone and a synced PC, and it’s unencrypted by default.
On both matters, Jobs’ statement is at least partially correct. Apple isn’t tracking users, because the data collected is anonymous. But the issue with the local file is that it’s out in the open for anyone with access to the user’s PC — say, an employer or suspicious spouse. If the computer falls into the wrong hands, so does the data.
The other part of Jobs’ statement (“Oh yes they do”) seems inaccurate. As Google explained to the Wall Street Journal, Android users’ whereabouts are tied to a unique ID, but it’s anonymous and not associated with any other personal information. Wiping the phone resets the ID.
In fairness, there’s a lot of misinformation out there. For consumers, it’s easy to glance at this topic and think “my goodness, Apple knows where I’ve been,” but that’s not the case. For Apple, it must be frustrating to see politicians ask questions that have already been answered.
Of course, Apple could’ve cleared the air early on with a statement of its own, but transparency and communication isn’t in the company’s DNA.
(via The Next Web)