There has been controversy concerning researchers’ revelations about the tracking and storage of users’ location data on Apple iPhones and 3G-enabled iPad tablets, as well as location tracking on Google Android devices. Apple has been quiet, but now CBS News reports the company is speaking out about the location-tracking controversy:
Apple says the idea that iPhones store their users’ locations is based on a misunderstanding of how the phones help determine where they are.
The company says the data file uncovered by researchers and publicized last week isn’t a log of a phone’s location, but a list of Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers nearby. That helps the phone figure out its location without having to listen for faint signals from GPS satellites.
Apple also says a software bug causes the phones to keep the data longer than intended. It’s the first comprehensive response to allegations that iPhones store up to a year’s worth of user location data. Those reports have drawn attention from Congress. […]
But the worry prompted by a report from researchers Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden at a technology conference in Santa Clara, Calif., raises questions about how much privacy you implicitly surrender by carrying around a smartphone and the responsibility of the smartphone makers to protect sensitive data that flows through their devices.
Researchers emphasize that there’s no evidence that Apple itself has access to this data. The data apparently stays on the device itself, and computers the data is backed up to.
Tracking is a normal part of owning a cellphone. What’s done with that data, though, is where the controversy lies. A central question in this controversy is whether a smartphone should act merely as a conduit of location data to service providers and approved applications – or as a more active participant by storing the data itself, to make location-based applications run more smoothly or help better target mobile ads or any number of other uses.