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Apple issues statement on iOS location controversy, says fix is coming

post #1 of 235
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Apple on Wednesday responded to growing concern over a bug in the iOS mobile operating system that powers the iPhone and iPad, informing customers that it is not tracking them and revealing that it will address the issue with a forthcoming software update.

The information was revealed as part of a list of questions and answers publicized Wednesday in a press release. Apple said that complex technical issues with devices like the iPhone are "hard to communicate in a soundbite."

The company also said it will release a free update for the iOS mobile operating system in the next few weeks that will address the location tracking bug. This update will reduce the size of the database file, encrypt the file, and ensure it is deleted if users disable location services on their iPhone or 3G-connected iPad.

The full list of questions and answers is included below:

Apple would like to respond to the questions we have recently received about the gathering and use of location information by our devices.

1. Why is Apple tracking the location of my iPhone?
Apple is not tracking the location of your iPhone. Apple has never done so and has no plans to ever do so.

2. Then why is everyone so concerned about this?
Providing mobile users with fast and accurate location information while preserving their security and privacy has raised some very complex technical issues which are hard to communicate in a soundbite. Users are confused, partly because the creators of this new technology (including Apple) have not provided enough education about these issues to date.

3. Why is my iPhone logging my location?
The iPhone is not logging your location. Rather, its maintaining a database of Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers around your current location, some of which may be located more than one hundred miles away from your iPhone, to help your iPhone rapidly and accurately calculate its location when requested. Calculating a phones location using just GPS satellite data can take up to several minutes. iPhone can reduce this time to just a few seconds by using Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data to quickly find GPS satellites, and even triangulate its location using just Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data when GPS is not available (such as indoors or in basements). These calculations are performed live on the iPhone using a crowd-sourced database of Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data that is generated by tens of millions of iPhones sending the geo-tagged locations of nearby Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers in an anonymous and encrypted form to Apple.

4. Is this crowd-sourced database stored on the iPhone?
The entire crowd-sourced database is too big to store on an iPhone, so we download an appropriate subset (cache) onto each iPhone. This cache is protected but not encrypted, and is backed up in iTunes whenever you back up your iPhone. The backup is encrypted or not, depending on the user settings in iTunes. The location data that researchers are seeing on the iPhone is not the past or present location of the iPhone, but rather the locations of Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers surrounding the iPhones location, which can be more than one hundred miles away from the iPhone. We plan to cease backing up this cache in a software update coming soon (see Software Update section below).
iPhone location data plotted | Source: O'Reilly Radar
5. Can Apple locate me based on my geo-tagged Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data?
No. This data is sent to Apple in an anonymous and encrypted form. Apple cannot identify the source of this data.

6. People have identified up to a years worth of location data being stored on the iPhone. Why does my iPhone need so much data in order to assist it in finding my location today?
This data is not the iPhones location datait is a subset (cache) of the crowd-sourced Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower database which is downloaded from Apple into the iPhone to assist the iPhone in rapidly and accurately calculating location. The reason the iPhone stores so much data is a bug we uncovered and plan to fix shortly (see Software Update section below). We dont think the iPhone needs to store more than seven days of this data.

7. When I turn off Location Services, why does my iPhone sometimes continue updating its Wi-Fi and cell tower data from Apples crowd-sourced database?
It shouldnt. This is a bug, which we plan to fix shortly (see Software Update section below).

8. What other location data is Apple collecting from the iPhone besides crowd-sourced Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data?
Apple is now collecting anonymous traffic data to build a crowd-sourced traffic database with the goal of providing iPhone users an improved traffic service in the next couple of years.

9. Does Apple currently provide any data collected from iPhones to third parties?
We provide anonymous crash logs from users that have opted in to third-party developers to help them debug their apps. Our iAds advertising system can use location as a factor in targeting ads. Location is not shared with any third party or ad unless the user explicitly approves giving the current location to the current ad (for example, to request the ad locate the Target store nearest them).

10. Does Apple believe that personal information security and privacy are important?
Yes, we strongly do. For example, iPhone was the first to ask users to give their permission for each and every app that wanted to use location. Apple will continue to be one of the leaders in strengthening personal information security and privacy.

Software Update
Sometime in the next few weeks Apple will release a free iOS software update that:
reduces the size of the crowd-sourced Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower database cached on the iPhone,
ceases backing up this cache, and
deletes this cache entirely when Location Services is turned off.
In the next major iOS software release the cache will also be encrypted on the iPhone.

Wednesday's statement by Apple confirms earlier rumors that the size and scope of the location tracking file "consolidated.db" was an oversight by Apple, and that the company is planning a fix. Still, public reaction to the existence of the file was strong, prompting lawsuits, government investigations around the world, and a scheduled hearing on mobile privacy in the U.S. Senate.

The issue gained attention after two security researchers publicized their findings related to the "consolidated.db" file stored on the iPhone. Though the file created by iOS 4 is not sent to Apple or anyone else, it keeps a detailed list of locations a user has been and is saved unencrypted on the phone, as well as in iTunes backups.
post #2 of 235
So Apple admits that storing the data for so long and transferring it to itunes is a bug, and also that storing the data with location services turned off is a bug with a fix coming soon. No data was transferred to Apple with any personal info attached. As I tell my 14-year-old, it take more guts and shows more character to say that you were wrong about something than to continue to deny it,
post #3 of 235
It's a good press release. Simple, clear and very direct. I appreciate the language and format and believe this will help alleviate most of the controversy and angst.
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post #4 of 235
Link to Apple website?
post #5 of 235
Quote:
Originally Posted by Smiles77 View Post

It's a good press release. Simple, clear and very direct. I appreciate the language and format and believe this will help alleviate most of the controversy and angst.

I saw dozens of commenters on Engadget being tinfoil-hat-y calling it a bunch of lies and a cover.

I literally facepalmed.
post #6 of 235
That was neat and clear. I can't think of anyone to continue filing lawsuits after that simple and easy to grasp statement. Well done Apple.
post #7 of 235
Quote:
Originally Posted by phxdoc View Post

So Apple admits that storing the data for so long and transferring it to itunes is a bug, and also that storing the data with location services turned off is a bug with a fix coming soon. No data was transferred to Apple with any personal info attached. As I tell my 14-year-old, it take more guts and shows more character to say that you were wrong about something than to continue to deny it,

Are you saying it's a good release, or a bad one? My first read was that you meant they were denying things, but upon my second read I think you meant they admitted mistakes and explained things clearly.

I think it's an excellent press release. It clears up questions and falsehoods in the media. The rumors were that our phones were storing our locations over the past year, and that Apple was tracking individual users' locations. Both of these have proven false.
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post #8 of 235
Now..now Apple you have spoiled the fun. Can we get back to be freaking out like magicj used to be? Thanks.
post #9 of 235
So this is not a log of where your phone has been - i liked the idea that I could use it as a record of where the device has been - but unless the official statement is inaccurate - it means that the database is not where MY device has been but rather where ANY device has been within a relevant geographical distance from where I am.

and I as I posted before and was corrected by someone it is not a database of YOUR location but of cell towers near you - which is very different.

and explains why some folks have data points very far away from anywhere they have been - and even why some areas such as Chicago have a brighter heat map than my home location - not because I was there more etc - but because there are more iPhones there - or more cell points - or more folks using 3G than WiFi - or some other disparity in the data type or collection method that skews the results.

for the conspiracy theorists out there this doesn't change anything - since it could be read as simple mis-direction that satisfies the average person - but really they are not saying that the data will not be collected - just that the parameters of that collection and backup to computer will change and it will be hidden (encrypted).

Still - if the data is only cached for areas that you have been near - and the timestamps only around the time you were there - the data could still be used to say that your device was in the Austin, Texas area between Aug 1st and Aug 4th - for example - and that could be enough in some cases to help investigators place someone in the vicinity of a crime for example - or show that your device was somewhere else during that time - of course all the details about gaming the system etc still apply - so unless you are dumb enough to video tape yourself committing a crime then it would have to be circumstantial evidence at best. - and yes, there have been folks who have done things like video taped themselves smashing mailboxes or shooting pedestrians with paintballs and were convicted of misdemeanors etc based on the evidence in their own video.
post #10 of 235
Quote:
Originally Posted by matrix07 View Post

Now..now Apple you have spoiled the fun. Can we get back to be freaking out like magicj used to be? Thanks.

This is a solid response. Ideally it would have come a few days earlier, but I appreciate Apple taking the time to figure out all the issues, and giving a detailed in depth response. They indicated there were 2 bugs. (1) They were saving the data for far too long. They have responsibly stated that this should be limited to 7 days, and will fix it. (2) They have identified that they are responsible for a lack of communication (phrased as education by them) with the user (3) They have responsibly stated every way they use the location information.

Who wants to take bets that the response will receive less than 1% of the coverage the original issue did?
post #11 of 235
Now that we are told the phone keeps the information for over a year, they are going to turn it off?

Too bad. I got a kick out of seeing where I had been, and like photos, and a journal, helped me remember things I had forgotten.

Sounds like a great app we could install that would maintain a history for us.
post #12 of 235
Gee, that press release sounds an awfully lot like what sensible people were saying for several days now. Then again, half of it was explained last Summer. The only new info is about the crowd source DB subset.
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post #13 of 235
Quote:
Originally Posted by mbarriault View Post

I saw dozens of commenters on Engadget being tinfoil-hat-y calling it a bunch of lies and a cover.

I literally facepalmed.

Engadget is a cesspool of 14-yr old trolls and fanboys. The click-bait articles the editors post don't help, either.

As for the press release, hopefully Al Franken can STFU now. Stick to SNL skits, Mr. Senator.
post #14 of 235
Quote:
Originally Posted by addicted44 View Post

This is a solid response. . . . They have responsibly stated every way they use the location information.

Who wants to take bets that the response will receive less than 1% of the coverage the original issue did?

<crickets>
post #15 of 235
I don't know really know how to say this, but I really don't give a crap about this location stuff. As far as I'm concerned Apple has taken the appropriate steps to warn users when their location and personal information is being used and the user has or has not consented to this, as the case maybe.

When I put my money down on my iPhone 3G, I expected to pay for smooth experience, which it has been. I connect to old networks seamlessly and have internet access as and when I need it. What more could I ask for?
post #16 of 235
Quote:
Originally Posted by waldobushman View Post

Now that we are told the phone keeps the information for over a year, they are going to turn it off?

The answer to question 6:

"The reason the iPhone stores so much data is a bug we uncovered and plan to fix shortly (see Software Update section below). We dont think the iPhone needs to store more than

seven days of this data."
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post #17 of 235
Quote:
Originally Posted by addicted44 View Post

This is a solid response. Ideally it would have come a few days earlier, but I appreciate Apple taking the time to figure out all the issues, and giving a detailed in depth response. They indicated there were 2 bugs. (1) They were saving the data for far too long. They have responsibly stated that this should be limited to 7 days, and will fix it. (2) They have identified that they are responsible for a lack of communication (phrased as education by them) with the user (3) They have responsibly stated every way they use the location information.

Who wants to take bets that the response will receive less than 1% of the coverage the original issue did?

come on now - what better to draw traffic that to start with a headline "APPLE tracks your every move..." and then after playing on people's fears close with - oh wait, no not really.

The story I want to hear is the outrage over all the other companies who quietly patch this same sort of bug without even mentioning it - and weeks or months after they could have or should have etc.

And you know every story about every other company will have Apple mentioned.
post #18 of 235
Quote:
Originally Posted by SDW2001 View Post

Are you saying it's a good release, or a bad one? My first read was that you meant they were denying things, but upon my second read I think you meant they admitted mistakes and explained things clearly.

I think it's an excellent press release. It clears up questions and falsehoods in the media. The rumors were that our phones were storing our locations over the past year, and that Apple was tracking individual users' locations. Both of these have proven false.

I'm saying that they did a nice job of clearing up this issue with a good explanation and resolution.
post #19 of 235
Mbarriault, you read Engadget comments? And still well enough to post here? Commendable!!

I've warned before not to read the comments in Engadget articles. They have the worst name-calling, immature and angry posters on the web IMHO. No matter what the article was about, some Apple or Android (or rarely Windows) fan will jump in with something totally unrelated and the mud-slinging starts.

Makes some of the angry guys here sound pretty toothless. Save your sanity. Don't read the comments there.
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post #20 of 235
Quote:
Originally Posted by ombra2105 View Post

I don't know really know how to say this, but I really don't give a crap about this location stuff. As far as I'm concerned Apple has taken the appropriate steps to warn users when their location and personal information is being used and the user has or has not consented to this, as the case maybe.

When I put my money down on my iPhone 3G, I expected to pay for smooth experience, which it has been. I connect to old networks seamlessly and have internet access as and when I need it. What more could I ask for?

I seem to recall with the iPhone 4 (or maybe an earlier version) either Apple touting how much faster the phone can find your location or reviewers noting it. It sounds like its a direct result of their crowd sourcing DB.
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post #21 of 235
At least this didn't need a press conference. I'm glad they came clean about it.

Of course, this opens a door to the flood of articles claiming that Apple's lying about this. Like the one already up on Gizmodo.
post #22 of 235
Quote:
Originally Posted by thenewperson View Post

At least this didn't need a press conference. I'm glad they came clean about it.

Of course, this opens a door to the flood of articles claiming that Apple's lying about this. Like the one already up on Gizmodo.

How long before some crackpot wants a subpoena of Apples crowd sourcing DB to verify its not tracking user or device info?
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post #23 of 235
Quote:
Originally Posted by solipsism View Post

Gee, that press release sounds an awfully lot like what sensible people were saying for several days now.

But then the sane person would know that 1. Apple main revenue is from hardware not ads, 2. Bad news about Apple always got blown out of proportion, and 3. Apple never be quick to clarify anything. The sane person would likely just sit watching the circus and wait.
post #24 of 235
Quote:
Originally Posted by solipsism View Post

I seem to recall with the iPhone 4 (or maybe an earlier version) either Apple touting how much faster the phone can find your location or reviewers noting it. It sounds like it’s a direct result of their crowd sourcing DB.

I have GPSDrive HD-a great app. It not only aquires my location in seconds, which is something my car GPS device owning friends can't say about their units, but I can also activate it when driving down the highway, which is something theirs can't do at all.

I assume it's because of this database. If so, then it's too bad it is being shortened, as it's a very useful thing to have.
post #25 of 235
Great response Apple. Bravo.
post #26 of 235
Quote:
Originally Posted by thenewperson View Post

At least this didn't need a press conference. I'm glad they came clean about it.

Of course, this opens a door to the flood of articles claiming that Apple's lying about this. Like the one already up on Gizmodo.

Just as there's a handful of members here who do the conspiracy theory dance with Google's response to StreetView questions. I guess what goes around. . .

But there's no controlling what people choose to believe. Sites like Gizmodo, Engadget, even here on occasion, know the clicks kick up when they play to the crowd. The lunatic fringe won't ever go away.
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post #27 of 235
this is what i care about:

Apple is now collecting anonymous traffic data to build a crowd-sourced traffic database with the goal of providing iPhone users an improved traffic service in the next couple of years.

looks like apple is planning on either replacing google maps with their own system.
At the very least, replacing the traffic info from google maps with their own data, but that seems unlikely.
post #28 of 235
Apple has not given a specific and credible explanation of how information the user has permitted to be stored by one application is protected from use by all other applications (and hackers). Apple has not provided a specific and credible explanation of how the user may gain access to specific items of information permitted to be stored.
post #29 of 235
Quote:
Originally Posted by melgross View Post

I have GPSDrive HD-a great app. It not only aquires my location in seconds, which is something my car GPS device owning friends can't say about their units, but I can also activate it when driving down the highway, which is something theirs can't do at all.

I assume it's because of this database. If so, then it's too bad it is being shortened, as it's a very useful thing to have.

I have TomTom and it connects quickly. Love that app! Does your car GPS have access to A-GPS connectivity or have to rely soley on GPS data?

I’ll try to do some tests to see if there is any difference between TomTom and Maps, which I assume does use this crowd sourcing DB.



Quote:
Originally Posted by desarc View Post

this is what i care about:

Apple is now collecting anonymous traffic data to build a crowd-sourced traffic database with the goal of providing iPhone users an improved traffic service in the next couple of years.

looks like apple is planning on either replacing google maps with their own system.
At the very least, replacing the traffic info from google maps with their own data, but that seems unlikely.

That’s the first thing I thought of but came to the conclusion this doesn’t really fix those issues. You need a mapping software for Maps and access to traffic info for traffic. They can subscribe to the traffic info and they already bought a company for mapping. I think this is solely to get an idea where their devices are being used.

edit: Maybe the first thought is the correct one.

http://www.appleinsider.com/articles...pple_says.html
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post #30 of 235
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gatorguy View Post

Just as there's a handful of members here who do the conspiracy theory dance with Google's response to StreetView questions. I guess what goes around. . .

Google has a history of taking people privacy for shit. Only Google fanboy would deny that.
post #31 of 235
Quote:
Originally Posted by SergeSF View Post

Link to Apple website?

http://www.apple.com/pr/library/2011...cation_qa.html
post #32 of 235
Quote:
Originally Posted by solipsism View Post

I have TomTom and it connects quickly. Love that app! Does your car GPS have access to A-GPS connectivity or have to rely soley on GPS data?

I’ll try to do some tests to see if there is any difference between TomTom and Maps, which I assume does use this crowd sourcing DB.

FWIW, you might also take a look at Navigon's nav app, a more full-featured offering at a lower price.

The biggest difference you'll note comparing Google and TomTom Traffic reporting is that Google will appear to offer greater coverage, with even most higher volume local highways showing traffic flow.

TomTom's current US "HDTraffic" solution is pretty good, but unlike the European version it was named after, does not use flow data from cellphone users. That gives Google many times the probe sources that TomTom currently offers. That does not necessary equate with better accuracy tho. There's a lot more to building an effective traffic service than having a few million probes. In the big metros TomTom's traffic reports are probably reasonably accurate 70-80% of the time, perhaps more depending on your city. Not as good outside the cities.
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post #33 of 235
Quote:

Thank you!
post #34 of 235
Quote:
Originally Posted by SergeSF View Post

Thank you!

I know, right?
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post #35 of 235
Quote:
Originally Posted by matrix07 View Post

Google has a history of taking people privacy for shit. Only Google fanboy would deny that.

I didn't originally think of you when I mentioned a "handful of members"\
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post #36 of 235
Quote:
Originally Posted by phxdoc View Post

So Apple admits that storing the data for so long and transferring it to itunes is a bug, and also that storing the data with location services turned off is a bug with a fix coming soon. No data was transferred to Apple with any personal info attached. As I tell my 14-year-old, it take more guts and shows more character to say that you were wrong about something than to continue to deny it,

Actually it probably wasn't a bug per se but they are using that term because it placates folks that don't get the actual non-issue. Rather like the whole giving folks a bumper anyway since they were convinced there is a problem with their phone and that is the fix.

The only legit "bug" part of the issue is the amount of data and that is only in the sense that that file can get unnecessarily huge.
post #37 of 235
Quote:
Originally Posted by SergeSF View Post

Link to Apple website?

Here it is: apple.com (you will find the press release under....press releases....duh)
post #38 of 235
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gatorguy View Post

FWIW, you might also take a look at Navigon's nav app, a more full-featured offering at a lower price.

Thanks, but I also own TomTom. I havent opted for in-app traffic data. Its not something I experience often, for which Im very happy.
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post #39 of 235
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rabbit_Coach View Post

That was neat and clear. I can't think of anyone to continue filing lawsuits after that simple and easy to grasp statement. Well done Apple.

Unfortunately no. People sue Apple because they approved an app that might include something that is a patent violation expecting Apple to vet every detail of every app.

People sue Apple cause they don't watch their kiddies on the iphone and Junior buys $1000 in virtual jujubees or whatever.

People will continue to sue Apple saying that they are giving out a line of bull and were collecting our data and stopped and pretended like they never were, etc

Quote:
Originally Posted by lilgto64 View Post

So this is not a log of where your phone has been - i liked the idea that I could use it as a record of where the device has been - but unless the official statement is inaccurate - it means that the database is not where MY device has been but rather where ANY device has been within a relevant geographical distance from where I am.

You ever use Genius on iTunes. It's basically the same thing. The outliers that you see are because a few folks that have been in your area a lot have been wherever.

As for the not encrypted, Apple was allowing 3rd party apps to use that database for location, thinks like Tom-Tom which means it had to be unencrypted because that encryption is likely part of the non allowed private APIs etc.

Quote:
Originally Posted by solipsism View Post

I seem to recall with the iPhone 4 (or maybe an earlier version) either Apple touting how much faster the phone can find your location or reviewers noting it. It sounds like its a direct result of their crowd sourcing DB.

Yep. Very likely so.
post #40 of 235
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ireland View Post

I know, right?

As webfrasse stated, you just go to www.apple.com. They have a predictive search in the upper left corner. the page for their press releases is simply www.apple.com/pr. There isnt a site is easier to traverse.
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