Apple On iPhone Location Tracking: It's A Bug!
Following outcry over research that found Apple iPhones have been tracking users' locations, Apple has issued a press release ("Apple Q&A on Location Data") addressing the privacy concerns in which it blames some of the location information being stored on a "bug" that will be fixed with a software update to come in several weeks' time.
People have noted that iPhones not only store up to a year's worth of location data, but that this information is stored in unecrypted logs and will continue to be collected even after Location Services has been disabled. Apple says software "bugs" are responsible for these issues.
Apple wrote in its press release:
6. People have identified up to a year's worth of location data being stored on the iPhone. Why does my iPhone need so much data in order to assist it in finding my location today?
This data is not the iPhone's location data-it is a subset (cache) of the crowd-sourced Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower database which is downloaded from Apple into the iPhone to assist the iPhone in rapidly and accurately calculating location. The reason the iPhone stores so much data is a bug we uncovered and plan to fix shortly (see Software Update section below). [Emphasis added] We don't think the iPhone needs to store more than seven days of this data.
7. When I turn off Location Services, why does my iPhone sometimes continue updating its Wi-Fi and cell tower data from Apple's crowd-sourced database? It shouldn't. This is a bug, which we plan to fix shortly (see Software Update section below). [Emphasis added]
Apple promises that a software update that will come "sometime in the next few weeks" will store the location tracking cache in an encrypted log, stop backing up the cache, and delete the cache when users disable Location Services.
Apple's response--essentially an "oops, sorry!"--could raise concerns over whether the company is playing fast and loose with user data, particularly sensitive location information that could identify a person's workplace, doctors' offices, and home. Though it's promising that fixes are coming, it's troublesome that it's taken Apple until now to address these issues. As Engadget points out, "The question is, if Apple did indeed "uncover" these bugs as it claims, why is the fix only coming now? Specialists have known about this behavior since at least September of last year.
The Cupertino company also suggested that users were overreacting to location tracking and were confused by the "complex technical issues" involved.
Apple wrote, "Providing mobile users with fast and accurate location information while preserving their security and privacy has raised some very complex technical issues which are hard to communicate in a soundbite. Users are confused, partly because the creators of this new technology (including Apple) have not provided enough education about these issues to date."