Apple can't escape iPhone tracking controversy

Even after taking steps to address the issue, Apple faces new questions from lawmakers and independent researchers. With video update.

By Kim Peterson Apr 28, 2011 12:16PM
Apple (AAPL) first tried to ignore the brewing fuss about the way its iPhones collect and store location data, but that didn't work. Then chief executive Steve Jobs tried to calm fears. That doesn't seem to be working either.

Now one congressman is accusing the company of lying. And some people think Apple's recent statements have only raised more questions than answers.

The issue centers around the location snapshots that Apple regularly gathers from people's iPhones. Apple says it uses iPhones to get information about cellphone towers and wireless hot spots, which helps it refine maps and driving directions for users. It's also using the information to build a "traffic database" that will eventually tell users where traffic is jammed.

Post continues after interview with one of the researchers who brought this issue into the spotlight:
Google
(GOOG)
has been in the spotlight for similar practices using Android phones, but it hasn't taken anywhere near the heat that Apple has.

As it turns out, Apple's phones store months' worth of location data. With a special app created by some independent researchers, some users can go on their computers and see a rough map of their travels. That has raised privacy concerns.

In its defense, Apple said that the information it collects is anonymous -- and it told users it was doing this in its privacy policies. It has no idea who is going where. Also, the company said, the location data are not precise.

But Apple has admitted there is a bug in the system. Phones are not supposed to be holding on to that much location data, and a fix coming soon will limit the data stored on the phone to the past seven days or so.

Still, more questions are being raised. The Wall Street Journal and an independent researcher ran tests and found that the databases were being updated even after people turned off the location services feature on their iPhones. The researcher also found that sometimes a phone's location can be located within 100 feet -- that's fairly precise.

That upset one congressman. Rep. Joe Barton of Texas said Apple lied when it told him last year that the collection stops when a phone is turned off. "When a member of Congress asks a straightforward question, reputable members of the business community should give a straightforward answer," Barton told the Journal. "Apparently, they lied to us."

Now, Apple and Google are being called to explain the issue at upcoming congressional hearings. "This has raised larger questions of how the locations of mobile devices are tracked and shared by companies like Apple and Google and whether federal laws provide adequate protection as technology has advanced," said Sen. Al Franken, according to the Journal.
3Comments
Apr 28, 2011 1:13PM
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Just admit you are storing the data and will sell it and the Whores of Industry (Congress) will give you a free pass. They just don't like it when you lie.
Apr 28, 2011 2:11PM
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Hot Oh, come on. What do you think a GPS does?  It's not just Apple and Google, any GPS in your car, phone, notebook, etc. can track it's whereabouts (read your) whenever it's programmed to.  What do you think will happen once you buy into the electronic wallet in your phone.  People are so naive about technology.  Marketing dearly wants to intrude into your life.  Try getting a real life and resist the temptations to share with everyone.   
Apr 29, 2011 10:05AM
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Really? I agree with the other posters here. What do you think a gps does! How do you expect your phone to know where everything is, when it doesn't know where you are? if users don't like this, then get a freaking Jitterbug! It's funny, users want everything on their phones, but get all squeemish when the phone does exactly what they expected. Get a grip. I'll bet no one wants to get rid of their iphone regardless of what it might track.
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