Apple denies storing users' locations on iPhones

April 27, 2011 7:29:33 PM PDT
Apple is under fire for what some are calling a big brother file on iPhones. Privacy watchdogs have raised concerns about the possibility that iPhones and iPads have been secretly collecting data on users. Apple broke its silence on the controversy Wednesday.

iPhones and iPads do use traditional GPS satellites, but Apple also includes a file on its mobile devices to provide users with more accurate and faster location information. The problem is that same technology raises red flags when it comes to privacy.

Apple is scoffing at the notion it is tracking iPhone and iPad users, but technology analyst Larry Magid says the data file on the devices does plot your general whereabouts. He used a program to visually represent what is stored on his iPhone from a trip to the East Coast a couple weeks ago.

Apple is responding to the controversy saying, "The iPhone is not logging your location. Rather, it's maintaining a database of Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers around your current location." Magid is not swayed.

"It's unencrypted on your iPhone, which means anyone with access to your iPhone can figure out where you have been," says Magid. "It could be a spouse, it could be somebody who stole the phone."

Apple says the actual data sent to the company is encrypted and anonymous. Opinions about the location file range from "don't care" to "you're kidding."

"Makes me kind of want to get off the iPhone," said iPhone user Shyla Hill. "That's really scary for them to do that."

"If it's not the carrier, someone is tracking that information and I don't think Apple is doing anything wrong at all," said iPhone and iPad user Eddie Bakhash.

Perhaps most significantly in Apple's 10-point news release Wednesday is a promise from the company to change the way it stores location data. Critics have said the location data is stored for up to a year. To that, Apple says it uncovered a bug in the system, and a fix in the works will reduce that time to seven days. The company says its software update will also allow users to turn off the location service.

"It's nice that they are doing some sort of resolution and they're actually coming up with some kind of response," said iPhone user Terence Kwan. "It's something."

In its statement, Apple emphasized its commitment to privacy and security, and says its software update will be available in a few weeks.

You can read Apple's full explanation here.

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