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IOS Iphone Privacy Apple

Steve Jobs: 'We Don't Track Anyone' 373

fysdt writes "There has obviously been a lot of discussion about last week's disclosure that iOS devices are maintaining an easily-accessible database tracking the movements of users dating back to the introduction of iOS 4 a year ago. The issue has garnered the attention of US elected officials and has played fairly heavily in the mainstream press. One MacRumors reader emailed Apple CEO Steve Jobs asking for clarification on the issue while hinting about a switch to Android if adequate explanations are not forthcoming. Jobs reportedly responded, turning the tables by claiming both that Apple does not track users and that Android does, while referring to the information about iOS shared in the media as 'false.'" Apple has now been hit with a class-action lawsuit over the location-tracking issue.
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Steve Jobs: 'We Don't Track Anyone'

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  • by tripleevenfall ( 1990004 ) on Monday April 25, 2011 @05:38PM (#35935054)

    That statement was actually written more than a year ago.

  • by MozeeToby ( 1163751 ) on Monday April 25, 2011 @05:54PM (#35935282)

    The other guy also truncates the record to a reasonable size, something like 250 entries total (between cell and wifi). Honestly, keeping a cache of the last one or two hundred locations seems reasonable to improve performance. Keeping a cache of the last several thousand locations seems like... well, like a lawsuit waiting to happen if nothing else.

  • Care for facts? (Score:5, Informative)

    by joh ( 27088 ) on Monday April 25, 2011 @06:00PM (#35935354)

    It has meanwhile been debunked that this file tracks the location of the iPhone. It draws a map of locations of cell towers. The positions in this file are not the position of the iPhone when the user used a location app, the positions are the locations of the cell towers the iPhone saw in this moment. This is pretty clear now. The cell tower ID is the UNIQUE ID of the database, there are only clusters of tower locations saved at the same time with locations miles apart and NONE of these are the actual position of your phone.

    Some real world testing: []

    And yes, this also paints a rough picture of where you used location services, because only the stations around the places where you used location services are in this database. But: The stations are miles around your real position and since there is no signal strength info saved triangulation is not possible. I have found stations recorded that were up to ten miles away from my true position and hardly any stations nearer than half a mile (you'd need to stand right under a cell tower and use Google Maps there to have the position of the iPhone and the tower match by accident, so this happens almost never and the data shows exactly that).

    So: The iPhone builds a local database with a network topography map and never throws it away. If it would throw that info away it would need to ask external databases (of Google or SkyHook) instead to learn the coordinates of the towers that it sees. By doing so it would neccessarily TELL these providers where it is.

    Basically you have the choice of your phone tracking you (very roughly) in an internal database or have someone else providing an external database and by this tracking your phone. The iPhone does the first, Android does the latter (and Android even sends the Unique Device ID along). Believe it or not, but technically Jobs is right. The iPhone tracks you in an internal database, but with Android Google tracks your phone in external databases.

    I don't expect many people to understand that though. Even with much explaining to basically neutral people hardly more than 5 of ten understand how positioning works and what it implies. Or what a "Unique Device ID" is.

  • by guspasho ( 941623 ) on Monday April 25, 2011 @06:12PM (#35935478)

    Disabling Location Services does not disable the data collection that everyone is objecting to. It's been tested. Sorry. If only it was actually that easy, then the only problem would be the lack of encryption.

  • by Superken7 ( 893292 ) on Monday April 25, 2011 @06:20PM (#35935544) Journal

    "And then you proceed to not back up your claim with any actual data."

    "The difference is I'll bet from an Android app I could read that cache and from iOS you cannot."

    Well, I wish you had backed up your claim with actual data, as you say.

    Author of the tool that reads android's location file says: "You will need root access to the device to read this directory." Which means you can't do that with an app.
    To make things even funnier, its *almost* the other way around. From your desktop, any app could read your iphone's location data from any of your iTunes backups. ;)

  • Re:define "track"? (Score:4, Informative)

    by _xeno_ ( 155264 ) on Monday April 25, 2011 @06:23PM (#35935570) Homepage Journal

    If you're talking about information being sent to Apple then it's a "no". But if you define it as recorded locally, then "yes".

    We know the information is being sent to Apple, and we know the official reasons "why" too: for advertising purposes, and to build a competing location database for Skyhook. Essentially, iPhone users are being used to "war drive" for Wi-Fi points and provide GPS coordinates for them.

    But, hey, don't take my word for it. Use Apple's instead []:

    To provide location-based services on Apple products, Apple and our partners and licensees may collect, use, and share precise location data, including the real-time geographic location of your Apple computer or device. This location data is collected anonymously in a form that does not personally identify you and is used by Apple and our partners and licensees to provide and improve location-based products and services.

    Yes, they say it's anonymous in this part of the privacy policy. Unfortunately earlier they explain that it's sent along with a "unique device ID" so while they're correct that it's anonymous by the dictionary definition (your name is not attached) they most certainly can track a single device.

    (Oh, and the "for advertising purposes" is higher up in the policy: "We may collect information such as ... unique device identifier, location, ... where an Apple product is used so that we can better understand customer behavior and improve our products, services, and advertising.")

  • by icebike ( 68054 ) on Monday April 25, 2011 @06:39PM (#35935742)

    You are exactly Correct.
    This article [] specifies what Andorid keeps and why these are kept.

    Last 50 cell towers, and last 200 wifi routers seen (not necessarily connected to). It does not keep a running computation of your exact position, and it truncates what it does keep. And it does not transfer this data to google in any identifiable way. (Google does crowd source traffic data [] from cell phones using Google Maps)

    In a big city/urban area, you might truncate you cell towers seen list in a couple hours, as you commute past dozens of towers each day.

    Of course once you fire up search (either on Android or IOS) you are transmitting that info to the search engine, (google or bing) if you enable local searching capability.

  • Re:define "track"? (Score:5, Informative)

    by _xeno_ ( 155264 ) on Monday April 25, 2011 @06:49PM (#35935844) Homepage Journal

    You mean besides the link to Apple's privacy policy [], where they explicitly tell you that they collect a "unique device identifier" and "location" as "non-personal information -- data in a form that does not permit direct association with any specific individual?"

    Or the part of the policy where they "collect, use, and share precise location data ... to provide and improve location-based products and services?"

    Really, I can't think of a better source than Apple themselves. But if you'd rather, how about Wired's "Gadget Lab" blog []?

  • by pavon ( 30274 ) on Monday April 25, 2011 @06:50PM (#35935866)

    You will need root access to the device to read this directory." Which means you can't do that with an app.

    Unless your Android device is rooted, which is common. Which means you can. Oops! Your bad.

    No, apps run on a rooted Android device don't run as root.

  • by _xeno_ ( 155264 ) on Monday April 25, 2011 @06:55PM (#35935898) Homepage Journal

    They mean anonymous as in it isn't directly tied to your name.

    It turns out they even explicitly explain this. Not quite as clearly, of course, but, from the Apple Privacy Policy [] again:

    We also collect non-personal information -- data in a form that does not permit direct association with any specific individual. We may collect, use, transfer, and disclose non-personal information for any purpose. The following are some examples of non-personal information that we collect and how we may use it:

    * We may collect information such as occupation, language, zip code, area code, unique device identifier, location, and the time zone where an Apple product is used...

    So, yeah - the unique device ID is gathered along with your location, and this is considered "non personal information" - a.k.a. anonymous information.

    So I suppose what Jobs is saying is, technically, true: Apple isn't tracking you. They're just tracking your phone.

"Never face facts; if you do, you'll never get up in the morning." -- Marlo Thomas