Following in the footsteps of Microsoft for a change, Apple has belatedly explained itself in the wake of the location data uproar. (Microsoft did so yesterday, explaining that, yes, it collects location data but doesn’t store it on Windows Phone devices.)
Here’s what the company has to say, in its usual belligerent style, minus superfluous bits:
1. Why is Apple tracking the location of my iPhone?
Apple is not tracking the location of your iPhone.
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.
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.
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.
5. Can Apple locate me based on my geo-tagged Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data?
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.
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.
9. Does Apple currently provide any data collected from iPhones to third parties?
We provide anonymous crash logs from users that have opted in to third-party developers to help them debug their apps.
Sometime in the next few weeks Apple will release a free iOS software update that:
- - reduces the size of the crowd-sourced Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower
- database cached on the iPhone,
- ceases backing up this cache, and
- deletes this cache entirely when Location Services is turned off.
In the next major iOS software release the cache will also be encrypted on the iPhone.
So, long story short, as expected, the iPhone locations data retention stuff is attributed to bugs that Apple intends to fix. And Apple’s revelation about a coming traffic monitoring service is interesting.
I assume this puts an end to this silliness, at least for iOS devices.