In response to last week’s discovery of a database file in iPhone and iPad backups that stores location data, Apple has released a ten-item Q&A in an attempt to alleviate privacy concerns.
Apple claims they have never tracked the location of individual iPhones and have no plans to do so. While stressing the complexity of the issue of location data storage, the release did admit that companies (including Apple) had done a poor job of informing customers how and why such data is stored on their phones.
In a phone interview that included Apple Senior VPs Paul Schiller and Scott Forstall, Steve Jobs told Ina Fried of All Things D that the location data researcher Alasdair Allan found is actually a subset of a crowdsourced database compiled from millions of US iPhone users. Apple Senior VP Paul Schiller likened the data to retailers using “a clicker that counts how many people come in and out of the store.” He argues that no one really cares about the privacy of that data, because its anonymous nature precludes any need for privacy.
However, they still saw fit to address concerns by promising a software update “in the next few weeks” that would reduce the size of the cache and stop backing it up to users’ computers. Apple also plans to fix the bug that causes the crowdsourced data to be stored even after location services have been turned off.
Jobs also hinted at future uses of such data, boasting that Apple is “building a crowdsourced database based on traffic” while keeping any details private.
It’s now clear that early reports of the iPhone’s “tracking” activities have proven to be overblown. But it is difficult to deny that Allan’s discovery (and former Apple Engineer Pete Warden’s rapidly developed visualization software) has succeeded in forcing Apple to explain how and why they were compiling location data.
We’d bet this is not the last time you’ll hear about the privacy of data stored on an iPhone.
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