Thursday, April 28, 2011

Exclusive: Apple Announcement on iPhone Location Tracking

Biff Spackle relays the official Apple announcement on the revelations that its products are tracking the locations of users.

1. Why is Apple tracking the location of my iPhone?

Apple is not tracking the location of your iPhone. It is tracking the location of you, for marketing departments and governments around the world.

2. Then why is everyone so concerned about this?

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. Put simply, you’re too stupid to understand why we’re recording your location at all times, saving that location, and sharing the information with any marketer with enough bucks and any governmental entity with a subpoena.

3. Why is my iPhone logging my location?

The iPhone is not logging your location. Rather, it’s maintaining a database of Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers around your current location, some of which may be located more than one hundred miles away from your iPhone, to help your iPhone rapidly and accurately calculate its location when requested. Using an on-board GPS and cell-tower triangulation algorithms would never, ever enter our minds. Seriously. We pinky-promise.

4. Is this crowd-sourced database stored on the iPhone?

The entire crowd-sourced database is too big to store on an iPhone, so we download an appropriate subset (cache) onto each iPhone. This cache is protected but not encrypted, and is backed up in iTunes whenever you back up your iPhone. The backup is encrypted or not, depending on the user settings in iTunes. The location data that researchers are seeing on the iPhone is not the past or present location of the iPhone, but rather the locations of Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers surrounding the iPhone’s location, which can be more than one hundred miles away from the iPhone. We plan to cease backing up this cache in a software update coming soon. We were going to put the word soon in quote marks, but figured that would be too obvious. We can’t commit to a date for engineering, logistical, planning, technical reasons to be named later.

5. Can Apple locate me based on my geo-tagged Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data?

No. Not that you know of.

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?

The reason the iPhone stores so much data is a bug we uncovered and plan to fix shortly (see Software Update section below). We don’t think the iPhone needs to store more than seven days of this data. After seven days, we’ll make sure that data just goes to our data center.

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. Consider the word shortly in quotation marks, too.

We're Apple! You don't like it, buy a freaking Motorola StarTAC! Lusers!

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