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27 April 2011, 15:18

Apple officially responds to iPhone location tracking concerns

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iPhone Location The "Apple Q&A on Location Data" is Apple's response to the location tracking controversy which has been dogging the company in recent days. The company emphatically states that it is not tracking iPhone locations, has never done so and does not plan to do so. It says that the confusion of the last week has been in part because the creators of location aware devices, including themselves, "have not provided enough education about these issues to date".

Apple confirms investigations that have found the iPhone maintains a database of Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers around the phone's current location which it uses to reduce the time needed to calculate the phone's location from several minutes to a few seconds. The iPhone then, if allowed, sends anonymous and encrypted information about the location up to a crowd-sourced database. Subsets of this database, based on the current location of the phone, are then downloaded by the iPhone and stored in the local database. It is this local database, consolidated.db, that kicked off the controversy.

The company says there are two bugs in the implementation of its crowd-sourced Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower maps that it plans to fix in a firmware update "in the coming weeks". The first bug is that the database should not grow as large as it has; some users have reported over a year's worth of data stored. Apple says it will reduce the size of the database to ensure it only holds seven days worth of cache.

The second bug is, according to Apple, that when Location Services is turned off, the iPhone may continue to update the location cache; in the update, when Location Services is turned off, the cache will completely deleted and will not be updated. Two other changes in the update will be: the location cache will no longer be backed up when the iPhone is synced with iTunes, and, that the cache on the iPhone will be encrypted.

Whether these changes will be enough to answer the numerous lawmakers, privacy groups and other concerned bodies who have expressed their disquiet with the discovery of the location database is unclear. Apple will also have to cope with a class action suit regarding the issue which has already been brought in Florida, USA.


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