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Steve Jobs speaks out on iOS location issue: Apple isn't tracking anyone

post #1 of 72
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Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs gave a rare interview this week as his company combats a firestorm of publicity regarding a location database file stored by the iOS operating system, and he reaffirmed that Apple has not been tracking anyone.

Jobs spoke on Wednesday with Ina Fried of Mobilized, and explained that the location data stored on iPhones running iOS 4 is used to deliver location-based information. He took the opportunity to explain that Apple is not keeping track of everywhere its users have been, and also declined to specifically comment on other companies' privacy policies, including Google.

"The files they found on these phones, as we explained, it turned out were basically files we have built through anonymous, crowdsourced information that we collect from the tens of millions of iPhones out there," Jobs reportedly said.

Jobs also admitted that the technology industry has not adequately explained to users how location services on devices like the iPhone work.

"As new technology comes into the society, there is a period of adjustment and education," Jobs said in the telephone interview. "We haven't, as an industry, done a very good job educating people, I think, as to some of the more subtle things going on here. As such, (people) jumped to a lot of wrong conclusions in the past week."

Jobs' interview is part of a strong public relations push being made by Apple to counter what it sees as misinformation that has circulated in the media over the last week. Also on Wednesday, Apple issued a series of questions and answers, in which it explained that the size of the location information file and the length of time information is stored on an iPhone or 3G-equipped iPad is a software bug.

"The reason the iPhone stores so much data is a bug we uncovered and plan to fix shortly," Apple said in its Q&A. An iOS update to address the issue is scheduled to arrive in a matter of weeks. "We don't think the iPhone needs to store more than seven days of this data."



In the interview, Jobs also revealed that Apple will take part in a U.S. Senate hearing on privacy scheduled for May. Apple and other technology companies were asked to participate in the Senate judiciary hearing on mobile technology privacy this week.

Finally, the Apple co-founder also said he would be interested to see how aggressively the press decides to pursue other device manufacturers with regard to user privacy. "Some of them don't do what we do," he reportedly said. "That's for sure."

Jobs' participation in the interview is also noteworthy because he has taken a medical leave of absence from his daily duties at Apple. The CEO announced his leave in January, but still took the stage to unveil the iPad 2 in March.
post #2 of 72
Get well soon Steve!
post #3 of 72
Good to hear that Steve Jobs is taking this one head on. And well put:

As new technology comes into the society there is a period of adjustment and education, Jobs said. We havent as an industry done a very good job educating people I think, as to some of the more subtle things going on here. As such (people) jumped to a lot of wrong conclusions in the last week."

And I've loved Ina Fried while at CNet News. Glad she gets an interview with Steve and I hope there are many more. I know she did lots with big honchos at Microsoft, writes really great stories and understands technology very well. Bonus is her great sense of humor.
post #4 of 72
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

Jobs also admitted that the technology industry has not adequately explained to users how location services on devices like the iPhone work.

It wouldn't matter. The critics and whiners making a stink about it are just too lazy to take the time to actually understand the issue before shooting their mouths off.


Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

"As new technology comes into the society, there is a period of adjustment and education," Jobs said in the telephone interview. "We haven't, as an industry, done a very good job educating people, I think, as to some of the more subtle things going on here. As such, (people) jumped to a lot of wrong conclusions in the past week."

Jumping to wrong conclusions is an understatement. Politicians use Apple as a punching bag in order to put them in the limelight and get coverage. Other folks simply hide behind the "Big Brother is watching us" mentality and spew out all kinds of conspiracy theories.

I kind of miss portions of years-past when irrelevant schmuck posters did not have the ability to reach a wide audience in such a quick fashion. People had more time to think about information before blasting away on the keyboard, only to look like idiots in the end.
post #5 of 72
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

"The reason the iPhone stores so much data is a bug we uncovered and plan to fix shortly," Apple said in its Q&A. An iOS update to address the issue is scheduled to arrive in a matter of weeks. "We don't think the iPhone needs to store more than seven days of this data."

A bug they uncovered!? Weren't we (including Apple) all made aware of this issue almost a year ago?

Nice prioritization of bugs! Well done.
post #6 of 72
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jacksons View Post

Nice prioritization of bugs! Well done.

That is my only real criticism of Apple here. They did not have their priorities in the appropriate order.
post #7 of 72
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jacksons View Post

A bug they uncovered!? Weren't we (including Apple) all made aware of this issue almost a year ago?

Nice prioritization of bugs! Well done.

We weren't all made aware of the consolidated.db file a year ago. Yes it was supposed to be logging cell towers and WiFi hotspots, it just wasn't supposed to be storing them for so long. It's the storing them for so long part that's the bug.
post #8 of 72
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jacksons View Post

A bug they uncovered!? Weren't we (including Apple) all made aware of this issue almost a year ago?

Nice prioritization of bugs! Well done.

The risk exposure is almost non-existant as it can, at best (after you get physical access to a device/computer), pin point a user to an area of many 10's of square miles. At worst, the information covers an area of 1000's of square miles.

The amount of sensitive information available (like email/text/calendar/schedules/contacts) once you get physical access to a device far outweighs the data the consolidated.db file contains.
post #9 of 72
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jacksons View Post

A bug they uncovered!? Weren't we (including Apple) all made aware of this issue almost a year ago?

Nice prioritization of bugs! Well done.


From a developer stand point, bugs like this often slip trough the cracks. When you're dealing with something as complicated as iOS, theres bound to be a TON of bugs, some relating to another and others independently causing problems.

The fact that usability is one of the most important thing in products and services can put other bugs, such as this one (which is not causing any harm or problems in the short run or long run) on the back burner, and as things build up and get used, newer bugs can overshadow and demand attention over the lowest level bugs, even if they are older.

To me, it makes sense that a bug like this exists and there is no doubt plenty of them in iOS or any other software out there. Just because attention has been brought to it doesn't mean that there aren't larger things demanding your time over it.
post #10 of 72
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

"The reason the iPhone stores so much data is a bug we uncovered and plan to fix shortly," Apple said in its Q&A.

The bug was not discovered by Apple.
post #11 of 72
Quote:
Originally Posted by noirdesir View Post

That is my only real criticism of Apple here. They did not have their priorities in the appropriate order.


I'd rather them work on things to improve the user experience than fixing a bug on a location database that is used anonymously by Apple to further improve said user experience. If these two guys didn't make a big stink of it, and people would encrypt and passcode protect their CE devices like they should, it wouldn't be such an issue and the "bug" probably would have been caught and fixed without us knowing. No harm done, as far as I'm concerned.
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post #12 of 72
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Originally Posted by Cpsro View Post

The bug was not discovered by Apple.

And you know this how?

It's perfectly possible that they were aware of this bug's existence before the big media shitstorm.
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post #13 of 72
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cpsro View Post

The bug was not discovered by Apple.

The bug was discovered by Apple, the location DB in question wasn't.
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post #14 of 72
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cpsro View Post

The bug was not discovered by Apple.

Somebody else has access to the iOS code?
post #15 of 72
Yap! Tell them Steve.
I wish you a quick recovery.
post #16 of 72
I guess we will now see the difference between iOS and Android now that the dog has pisssed on the flag pole. How tracking is done the "open source" Google way is vastly different than how Apple curated apps work.... this is going to be fun....
post #17 of 72
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cpsro View Post

The bug was not discovered by Apple.

Depends on what was the original design. If you had a requirement like (or use case or what ever design methodology Apple employs):

The location services system shall maintain at least 7 days of cached location data on local wifi access points and cell towers.

that flowed down to specific software requirements that entered into more detail, the implementation might have looked at the "at least 7 days" as a minimum value with no specific maximum. From a testing and validation standpoint, the system/software does not have any "bugs" but there might be a conceptual "bug" in that the real requirement really was:

When location services are enabled, the location services system shall maintain between 7 and 10 days of cached location data on local wifi access points and cell towers.

When location services are disabled, the location services system shall remove all cached location data from local wifi access points and cell towers.

The truth is, we don't know exactly where the "bug" was. Was it system specs, software requirements, design or code? Or was it all four? It could be the "bug" was only discovered after reviewing the actual documentation with the original intent of how this was suposed to work.

It could be there was no bug but after this issue was brought to light, a review was made of how this sub-system functioned and Apple realized the solution was not really optimal and had issues.
post #18 of 72
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cpsro View Post

The bug was not discovered by Apple.

All other people did was find the file and look at the details. It's then on to Apple to look at the amount of information in this file and see if there is actually something wrong.

For this reason only Apple can find and fix this bug because only they have the source code for the iOS. No one else has this.
post #19 of 72
Quote:
Originally Posted by nvidia2008 View Post

Get well soon Steve!

Yes, and thank you, Steve, for taking the time out from medical leave to speaking out on this! You didn't have to, but thanks for doing it.

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post #20 of 72
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Originally Posted by Dickprinter View Post

I'd rather them work on things to improve the user experience than fixing a bug on a location database that is used anonymously by Apple to further improve said user experience. If these two guys didn't make a big stink of it, and people would encrypt and passcode protect their CE devices like they should, it wouldn't be such an issue and the "bug" probably would have been caught and fixed without us knowing. No harm done, as far as I'm concerned.

Its inattention to detail more than anything. I guess when youre known for your attention to detail any mistep, no matter how inconsequential, becomes an issue.

PS: Are we ever going to get a response from Google on this matter or is now effectively closed. If it is that says a lot about the mindshare of Android.
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post #21 of 72
I'm mostly satisfied with the resolution here, it just kinda stinks of conveniently calling these things bugs after vast media attention brought them to light. I can't imagine their development team never thought about the amount of data they were storing, or the possibility that people would want it to be secured somehow. Also the fact that it still did this with location services turn off seems suspicious as well. If the user isn't using the location services, the phone shouldn't be doing anything to determine it's location and therefore not logging it.
post #22 of 72
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jacksons View Post

A bug they uncovered!? Weren't we (including Apple) all made aware of this issue almost a year ago?

Nice prioritization of bugs! Well done.

This issue was known earlier. It was even written about in a book about security that came out in December 2010. Since this file isn't insidious, it's not a big deal anyway. It's not a security issue at all, so I'm not surprised that Apple didn't prioritize it until the publicity required them to hurry up.
post #23 of 72
This whole iPhone tracking issue was a non-issue from the beginning and it is much ado about nothing.

I'm more concerned about what Google does with my data and how it tracks and stores it. I see that my Youtube password is now invalid and everybody has to log in with their Gmail account instead from now on. Does that mean that Google tracks and knows every single thing that you watch on youtube and they can track it back personally to you? Does Google also know every single image that you've ever searched for on image search? Does Google store regular search queries?

I'm also skeptical about that new internet ID plan being proposed by Obama. I don't trust him or the government and that plan sounds extremely fishy.
post #24 of 72
Quote:
Originally Posted by xanthohappy View Post

We weren't all made aware of the consolidated.db file a year ago. Yes it was supposed to be logging cell towers and WiFi hotspots, it just wasn't supposed to be storing them for so long. It's the storing them for so long part that's the bug.

It would be nice if some of you actually bothered to read what Apple said in their statement, so you would know what this is actually all about.

This isn't tracking data FROM your phone. It's data that has been collected from tens of millions of individuals as they pass by these spots, and have the agreement they made to allow Apple to capture anonymous, encrypted data over time. The data in the .db file is data that other people, and possibly you as well, have collected over time, and is now being SENT BACK to you FROM Apple. It's not a record of where you were or are. It's impossible from this data to find out where someone was or is. Isn't accurate enough for that purpose.
post #25 of 72
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cpsro View Post

The bug was not discovered by Apple.

We don't know that. Just because other people made it public, doesn't mean that Apple wasn't aware of it.
post #26 of 72
Quote:
Originally Posted by melgross View Post

This issue was known earlier. It was even written about in a book about security that came out in December 2010. Since this file isn't insidious, it's not a big deal anyway. It's not a security issue at all, so I'm not surprised that Apple didn't prioritize it until the publicity required them to hurry up.

http://sachin.posterous.com/apple-is...a-huge-startup

For those who do not recall this, Apple is run like a uber-startup, the kind you only see in very early stage companies or high impact academia. They don't have specific people working on specific parts or even specific OSs.

And in service of schadenfreude, you may read this for the contrast.

http://minimsft.blogspot.com/2011/01...?commentPage=2
post #27 of 72
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Originally Posted by poke View Post

Somebody else has access to the iOS code?

There is software available that can peek at any code. Researchers have this software, and so do others, including many developers.
post #28 of 72
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Originally Posted by iMoan View Post

Oh boy. RDF on, full power.

What do you call Google's?
post #29 of 72
Quote:
Originally Posted by solipsism View Post

Its inattention to detail more than anything. I guess when youre known for your attention to detail any mistep, no matter how inconsequential, becomes an issue.

PS: Are we ever going to get a response from Google on this matter or is now effectively closed. If it is that says a lot about the mindshare of Android.


Plus, the public, and especially the media, love to pounce on any opportunity which makes such a stellar, successful company look bad.
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post #30 of 72
Quote:
Originally Posted by gmcalpin View Post

And you know this… how?

It's perfectly possible that they were aware of this bug's existence before the big media shitstorm.

One definition of "bug" is an undesirable behavior (for which access to source code is not required). The bug has existed for many months, since iOS 4.0, yet it will be fixed in just a few weeks from when outside researchers publicly disclosed it. Quite possibly Apple knew about the behavior but Apple didn't give a rat's ass about it until now. In other words, Apple didn't consider it a bug until outside researchers revealed it and the public at large characterized it as such. Ergo, Apple did not uncover the bug. I don't see any gratitude from Apple to the researchers who discovered the bug. I guess we've all just been using location services wrong. Silly consumers, we're just all confused about how stuff should work.
post #31 of 72
Quote:
Originally Posted by melgross View Post

There is software available that can peek at any code. Researchers have this software, and so do others, including many developers.

And pray tell, what does that "software" do when it "peeks" at the code?

You do realize (okay, probably not, this is heavy computer science), that something as simple as disassembly is an undecidable problem; this means that it is *not possible* for *any* software to peek at "any" code and make any major decisions about it. True, there is some code that *can* detect certain patterns in *certain* software, especially when aided by a human being, but I think you've been watching too many episodes of "24" or some other television thriller if you honestly think software can achieve what you're saying here.
post #32 of 72
Quote:
Originally Posted by magicj View Post

The only explanation needed by the public was for Apple to say they were aware of the problem and working on a fix.

Apple has now done that and I think we can put this issue to bed.

I agree that this case was blown out of proportion (much like the FUD WSJ/BGR is now trying to start about browsers tracking location)

But Steve Jobs made a very valid point. Location technology is very new, and a lot of people don't understand fully what it is, what's being tracked, and why this isn't always a scary thing.

I think location-aware devices are a good thing, and can improve customer experience dramatically, but companies need to make sure customers know that. Because most of them don't read the privacy policy (I bet most of us here haven't read every word either) and sensationalist journalism like this location tracking story helps no one but the guy collecting ad revenue.
post #33 of 72
Quote:
Originally Posted by ddawson100 View Post

... And I've loved Ina Fried while at CNet News. Glad she gets an interview with Steve and I hope there are many more. I know she did lots with big honchos at Microsoft, writes really great stories and understands technology very well. Bonus is her great sense of humor.

She's great, and really fair and even handed, which is quite unusual in the business she is in. I used to follow her on Twitter but had to stop as half her tweets are about basketball. (yuck!)
post #34 of 72
Agree, as a developer you know what you log and what you don't; trying to make this looks like a bug and that they didn't is a lie.
post #35 of 72
Quote:
Originally Posted by iMoan View Post

Oh boy. RDF on, full power.

Oh boy... I guess someone decided to come out of the dumpster today.
post #36 of 72
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cpsro View Post

One definition of "bug" is an undesirable behavior (for which access to source code is not required). The bug has existed for many months, since iOS 4.0, yet it will be fixed in just a few weeks from when outside researchers publicly disclosed it. Quite possibly Apple knew about the behavior but Apple didn't give a rat's ass about it until now. In other words, Apple didn't consider it a bug until outside researchers revealed it and the public at large characterized it as such. Ergo, Apple did not uncover the bug. I don't see any gratitude from Apple to the researchers who discovered the bug. I guess we've all just been using location services wrong. Silly consumers, we're just all confused about how stuff should work.

No. It doesn't mean that Apple didn't consider it to be a bug. It just meant that it wasn't considered to be a CRITICAL bug. Companies prioritize them according to seriousness. This isn't exactly serious, except for the bad publicity.
post #37 of 72
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jacksons View Post

A bug they uncovered!? Weren't we (including Apple) all made aware of this issue almost a year ago?

Nice prioritization of bugs! Well done.

Although I understand you were probably been sarcastic, but you actually speaks the truth. In the grand scheme of things, this bug is the lowest of low priority. It doesn't interfere with any operation, doesn't expose specific data in any way, not related to user experience in any way, so assigning it the lowest priority would be about right.
post #38 of 72
Quote:
Originally Posted by rhyde View Post

And pray tell, what does that "software" do when it "peeks" at the code?

You do realize (okay, probably not, this is heavy computer science), that something as simple as disassembly is an undecidable problem; this means that it is *not possible* for *any* software to peek at "any" code and make any major decisions about it. True, there is some code that *can* detect certain patterns in *certain* software, especially when aided by a human being, but I think you've been watching too many episodes of "24" or some other television thriller if you honestly think software can achieve what you're saying here.

I programmed for some time, including for the VAX, so yes, I do understand the issue, thank you.

There are dissemblers, decompilers, hex editors. Some work very well.Some not so well. This is an established field. Don't try to make it look like some unfinished business. How do you think forensic research works? Or do you?
post #39 of 72
Quote:
Originally Posted by iMoan View Post

Old saying: Two wrongs don't make a right.

You're making a comment you obviously don't know anything about, or that you prefer to be what you think it is.
post #40 of 72
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

Finally, the Apple co-founder also said he would be interested to see how aggressively the press decides to pursue other device manufacturers with regard to user privacy. "Some of them don't do what we do," he reportedly said. "That's for sure."

Why would the press investigate companies that are advertising with them, doesn't Steve understand they are mad that Apple isn't throwing money at them?
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