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    Update on Apple and Location Tracking Controversy

    Recently, there’s been controversy concerning researchers’ revelations about the tracking and storage of users’ location data on Apple iPhones and 3G-enabled iPad tablets. Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), co-chairman of the House caucus on privacy and Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), chairman of the recently created subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law of the Senate Judiciary Committee have both written to Apple about the issue. Here are a couple updates.

    First, the Wall Street Journal runs a test and finds out that “Apple Inc.’s iPhone is collecting and storing location information even when location services are turned off.”

    The location data appear to be collected using cellphone towers and Wi-Fi access points near a user’s phone and don’t appear to be transmitted back to Apple. Apple didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

    Still, the fact that the iPhone is collecting and storing location data—even when location services are turned off—is likely to renew questions about how well users are informed about the data being gathered by their cellphones. […]

    Apple and Google have both previously said that the data they receive is anonymous and that users can turn it off by disabling location services.

    However, it appears that turning off location services doesn’t disable the storage of location data on iPhones. The Journal tested the collection of data on an iPhone 4 that had been restored to factory settings and was running the latest version of Apple’s iOS operating system.

    The Journal disabled location services (which are on by default) and immediately recorded the data that had initially been gathered by the phone. The Journal then carried the phone to new locations and observed the data. Over the span of several hours as the phone was moved, it continued to collect location data from new places.

    In another story, the New York Times reports that Europe is interested in the Apple location-tracking controversy.

    The controversy surrounding the security of Apple’s iPhone and iPad escalated Thursday as some European governments said they would investigate whether the company had violated privacy laws by collecting and storing users’ geographic location data.

    At the same time, some researchers said that contrary to reports published Wednesday, the iPhone’s recording of location information in a hidden file on the device, later stored on iTunes on a PC, has been known for some time, and that the information has, on some occasions, been used by law enforcement agencies in investigations. […]

    The Bavarian Agency for the Supervision of Data Protection, in Germany, said it would examine whether — and if so, why — the iPhone and iPad were storing such user data. Thomas Kranig, the director of the agency, said his office had asked Apple whether geographic information was being stored and for what purpose. […]

    The Italian Data Protection Authority also opened an investigation into Apple’s data collection, expanding one it had begun on how mobile applications process personal data, Reuters reported.

    France may follow suit. Yann Padova, the secretary general of CNIL, the French data protection authority, said the agency was trying to verify the report by the American programmers.

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