Apple denies location-tracking allegations after week-long silence

08:42, April 28, 2011      

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Apple Inc. on Wednesday denied the alleged location-tracking practice of its mobile operating system, saying it will release software updates to make iPhone store less location information to quell public concerns over privacy.


"Apple is not tracking the location of your iPhone. Apple has never done so and has no plans to ever do so," the company said in a statement.

"Users are confused, partly because the creators of this new technology (including Apple) have not provided enough education about these issues to date."

According to the statement, the location data researchers saw on iPhone is a database of Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers around users' current location that Apple is maintaining to help iPhone rapidly and accurately calculate its location when requested. It noted Apple cannot locate iPhone users based on Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data as the information is in an anonymous and encrypted form.

Apple admitted that part of the location data (Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers) is backed up on iTunes, which means it could be possible that people with access to iPhone users'computer may get their location information. It said a software update has been planned to cease the backing-up.

It is also planning to provide an update to limit the data storage on iPhone, in response to questions that the device has been storing location data since the release of iOS 4 operating system last June.

Apple said it is a bug that iPhone keeps storing location data even if its location services are disabled, noting it will fix this through a software update in the coming weeks.

The company also reiterated its focus on personal information security and privacy.

"Pretty much what I expected at this stage. The response is measured and the update should fix the problem," Alasdair Allan, one of the two British researchers who first announced the discovery of stored location data on iPhone, said on his Twitter account.


The statement on Wednesday is Apple's first official response to the location-tracking allegations.

Worries on the iPhone tracking issue first surfaced last Wednesday when two British researchers announced at a technology conference in California that iPhone has been collecting users' location information and storing the data since June 21, 2010.

Last Friday, The Wall Street Journal reported its security analysts had found that Apple's iPhone and smartphones running Google's Android operating system regularly transmit users' locations back to the two companies respectively, which is part of their race to build databases capable of pinpointing people's locations via smartphones.

The newspaper then reported on Sunday that its analysts had also found iPhone is collecting and storing user's location data even when location services are turned off.


The Cupertino, California-based company has been facing mounting pressure from lawmakers, customers as well as media reports following the revelations.

The U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee on Monday sent letters to six developers of mobile device operating systems, including Apple and Google, demanding Apple's explanation on implications of alleged tracking for individual privacy and federal communications policy.

Also on Monday, Minnesota Senator Al Franken, chairman of the U. S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law, announced he had scheduled a mobile privacy hearing on May 10 and asked representatives from Apple and Google to speak at the hearing.

Meanwhile, Lisa Madigan, Attorney General of U.S. state of Illinois, on Monday called for a meeting with Apple and Google executives on the location-tracking reports, citing her ongoing effort to protect consumers' personal information online.

Last Friday, two iPhone users filed a class action suit against Apple in Tempa, Florida, accusing the company of invasion of privacy and computer fraud and seeking a judge's order to bar the alleged data collection.

Last Thursday, U.S. congressman Edward Markey asked Apple CEO Steve Jobs to make a response within 15 business days or no later than May 12, saying "Apple needs to safeguard personal location information of its users to ensure that an iPhone doesn't become an iTrack."

On Saturday, Markey called for a congressional investigation into the privacy practices of Apple and Google. In a statement, he made clear that he thinks the data collection is potentially dangerous, saying predators could have hacked into an iPhone or Android phone to find out children's location information.

Apple is also reportedly being investigated in South Korea, France, Germany and Italy over the alleged tracking practice.

Source: Xinhua
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