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Apple executives defend crowdsourced data collection in building new features

post #1 of 30
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In an interview focusing on the issue of access to users' location data, Apple executives defended the concept of collecting anonymous data to provide valuable new services in the future.

The company's official question and answer response to location services issues noted that Apple was collecting anonymous user location data to build an improved traffic database that would power a new service related to maps "in the next couple years."

In an interview conducted by Ina Fried of the Wall Street Journal, Apple's chief executive Steve Jobs was asked whether he thought that companies like Apple "need to let people know specifically what you guys are doing with the information and choose whether to participate in these commercial projects, or do you think Apple and others should have fairly broad use of anonymized data."

Jobs responded, "If people dont want to participate in things, they will be able to turn location services off. Once we get a bug that we found fixed, their phone will not be collecting or contributing any crowdsourced information. But nor will it be calculating location."

However, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide marketing Phil Schiller then questioned the legitimacy of the question itself, nothing that "sometimes it helps people to understand an analogy that describes what these things are like because they are so new.

"I would think an analogy of a crowdsourced database is every time you walk into a retail store, many retailers have a clicker that counts how many people come in and out of the store. Nobody really cares about that because it is completely anonymous. It is not personal data. It is not anything to worry about. Its not something that people feel is private because it is really not about them. Its a coagulated total of all traffic.

"These crowdsourced databases are sort of like that. Things like that arent so scary when you think about them in everyday terms," Schiller said.

Big Brother bears gifts

That's an apt analogy, because Apple already conducts anonymized data mining of foot traffic in its retail stores as part of an effort to improve how products are presented and how features such as Genius Bars and store cash registers are located. Nearly every retailer does the same thing.

On the web, Google and other companies regularly introduce products that have benignly ulterior purposes. For example, Google operated a Goog411 service that provided free, automated answers to callers' questions over the phone. Those calls were actually used to record realistic speaking voices in natural settings, data Google used to enhance its voice recognition algorithms.

Similarly, Google's reCaptcha project (originating in the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University) is used to provide a free security service for web publishers that challenges users to type the correct captcha as it appears to prove they are a real person. However, the words displayed by the system are taken from Google Books and the Internet Archive sources to double check the automated OCR work in correctly identifying scanned text.

Traffic will be the only new leak today, thanks

Apple's efforts to collect anonymous information from millions of devices to improve the accuracy of location lookups or to power new services (like traffic) are the same thing, its executives maintain.

When asked what other uses the company may make of collectively culled data, Jobs said only that "we mentioned the traffic service and I think that is all we are going to mention at this point in time before we have something to announce."

Pressed further about other the possibility of crowdsourced data being used for other purposes, Jobs said "we are building a crowdsourced database based on traffic and that is what we are saying."
post #2 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post


Jobs said "we are building a crowdsourced database based on traffic and that is what we are saying."


So there.
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post #3 of 30
Few users of any on-line service have any comprehension of what they actually agree to in the small print. FWIW I have no issue with Apple, or Google or Tomtom collecting anonymous user statistics if it results in improved navigation, faster searches, targeted ads for products or services I might actually be interested in, that type of thing. And Apple would be right in not considering that as "tracking users".

The good thing that will probably come from this is we'll all be a bit more careful about reading what we agree to. Apple, Google, Microsoft nor TomTom have nefarious plans to follow me as a person, nor Anonymouse, Solipcism, MStone or others. We're simply marketing statistics to them.

But I don't know if I'd be as trusting of some of the smaller players that we aren't as familiar with such as some of the app developers. I'm certainly going to be more cautious about permissions requested by some apps, and question some for why they need them. If it doesn't make sense, I just won't use the app. There's always dozens of other options in both the AppStore and Android Market.
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post #4 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

Jobs responded, "If people dont want to participate in things, they will be able to turn location services off. Once we get a bug that we found fixed, their phone will not be collecting or contributing any crowdsourced information. But nor will it be calculating location."

Sounds like the next iOS version will have an option in Settings » Location Services that will specifically enable/disable this function.
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post #5 of 30
What will happen, of course, is some paranoid delusional will turn it all off and then complain that their iPhone takes five minutes before the GPS comes up, complain that their iPhone is giving them incorrect directions, and then file a class action lawsuit for that inconvenience. Apple can't win.
post #6 of 30
In the meantime, all the journalists login to their PSN accounts to see how many trophies they've amassed.
post #7 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by solipsism View Post

Sounds like the next iOS version will have an option in Settings » Location Services that will specifically enable/disable this function.

Really? The way I read that comment, it seems like it will stay the same as it is now.

In other words isn't he just saying that you can turn off location services to stop the data collection, but then you won't have location services. Just like it is now (except for the bug).
post #8 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by Prof. Peabody View Post

Really? The way I read that comment, it seems like it will stay the same as it is now.

In other words isn't he just saying that you can turn off location services to stop the data collection, but then you won't have location services. Just like it is now (except for the bug).

Maybe you’re right, maybe they’ll make it an all or nothing thing so users that want any Location Services will help collect for their crowdsource DB.


edit: This interview by Ina Fried indicates what you said is dead on.

http://mobilized.allthingsd.com/2011...-and-location/
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post #9 of 30
Better bring in a front end loader - Apple's pile of bullshit is bigger then expected.
post #10 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

In an interview focusing on the issue of access to users' location data, Apple executives defended the concept of collecting anonymous data to provide valuable new services in the future. ...
Jobs responded, "If people dont want to participate in things, they will be able to turn location services off. Once we get a bug that we found fixed, their phone will not be collecting or contributing any crowdsourced information. But nor will it be calculating location."
...
"I would think an analogy of a crowdsourced database is every time you walk into a retail store, many retailers have a clicker that counts how many people come in and out of the store. Nobody really cares about that because it is completely anonymous. It is not personal data. It is not anything to worry about. Its not something that people feel is private because it is really not about them. Its a coagulated total of all traffic. ][/url][/c]

Um... no. that's not crowdsourcing. In crowdsourcing, you INVITE people to participate knowingly. It's not just the fact that you used a "crowd" as the "source" of your booty. By Jobs' definition, if I set fire to a group of people to warm myself up, I've crowdsourced my heating. Taking advantage of people without their knowledge, even if benign in intent, is NOT crowdsourcing.
post #11 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mode View Post

Better bring in a front end loader - Apple's pile of bullshit is bigger then expected.

Too bad you're already FOS, otherwise we could load you up with some it!
Disclaimer: The things I say are merely my own personal opinion and may or may not be based on facts. At certain points in any discussion, sarcasm may ensue.
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post #12 of 30
I honestly don't get why Apple is being grilled here. Cell phone carriers actually do track and record location data. They are required to by law, and freely give it to government agencies. A german polictican recently sued to have his information released. Boingboing posted the logs here.

AT&T is the worst freely giving government agencies access to all its users information. I trust Apple before the government.
post #13 of 30
Then you must really hate Google. The Chrome Browser, without my consent, would call home every ten minutes. It is the only browser that does it (according to Little Snitch on my Mac). Google mines information without anybodies permission, like the whole recording people's wifi traffic controversy.

Lots of companies keep records without telling people. Take for instance, CarFax reports. Whenever your car gets services or in a major accident, it is typed in some data base. Companies like Car Fax utilize those data bases.

When you subscribe to a magazine, without your permission, your name, address, and phone number are sold to third parties.

Quote:
Originally Posted by wealthychef View Post

Um... no. that's not crowdsourcing. In crowdsourcing, you INVITE people to participate knowingly. It's not just the fact that you used a "crowd" as the "source" of your booty. By Jobs' definition, if I set fire to a group of people to warm myself up, I've crowdsourced my heating. Taking advantage of people without their knowledge, even if benign in intent, is NOT crowdsourcing.
post #14 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by TBell View Post

I honestly don't get why Apple is being grilled here. Cell phone carriers actually do track and record location data. They are required to by law, and freely give it to government agencies. A german polictican recently sued to have his information released. Boingboing posted the logs here.

AT&T is the worst freely giving government agencies access to all its users information. I trust Apple before the government.


Yes, everyone has become such a crybaby these days. People have become chronic and compulsive complainers.

If one does not wish to be tracked, I suggest they give using a cell phone anyway! Law Enforcement can track you if they wanted to.
Every time you upload a picture in Facebook with your smartphone the gps metadata can probably be downloaded....

It would have been dumb for apple or google to knowingly track your location with identifiable information then transmit it and store it in a central database. The legal liability and the PR nightmare are just not worth it!

I was never concerned with this big "discovery"
post #15 of 30
JFC, AI. 3 articles on the same damn thing? Must be a slow news day.
post #16 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by magicj View Post

Or you could grow a pair and work to have these things changed.

If the data is there it can be tracked, plain and simple! Your cell phone communicates with cell towers and in many cases GPS and the coordinates can be measured. Its the nature of the beast. You can make it harder for law enforcement or others to use it, but you can never make it go away even if you grew a pair the size of bowling balls.
post #17 of 30
Where are all the fandroids whining about the world map Google released showing glowing Android activations lighting up the world against a timeline.

OMG Google published the precise location of every Android user on the Internets in a massive display of "crowd source gathered" location data.

Is it still worth 'oohing and aahing' over?
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post #18 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by magicj View Post

Or you could grow a pair and work to have these things changed.

Why don't you grow a pair and do something? Really! It's folks like you that want to be ultra-connected to everything on the grid, yet turn around and behave like a crybaby when you find out that same technology that lets you have the world at your fingertips can also (shock) be theoretically used against you!

Apple did nothing wrong. If anything, they should be acknowledged for trying to improve everyone's online experience by making things work faster.

Reality check: unless you live in some hole in the ground, up in the mountains, you are being tracked in so many other ways. If you think Apple is doing such a horrible thing, cancel your iPhone contract (assuming you even own one), quit your whining and move on with your life in a non-trackable way.

Geez, the amount of complainers on this subject is staggering!
post #19 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by sflocal View Post

Why don't you grow a pair and do something? Really! It's folks like you that want to be ultra-connected to everything on the grid, yet turn around and behave like a crybaby when you find out that same technology that lets you have the world at your fingertips can also (shock) be theoretically used against you!

Apple did nothing wrong. If anything, they should be acknowledged for trying to improve everyone's online experience by making things work faster.

Reality check: unless you live in some hole in the ground, up in the mountains, you are being tracked in so many other ways. If you think Apple is doing such a horrible thing, cancel your iPhone contract (assuming you even own one), quit your whining and move on with your life in a non-trackable way.

Geez, the amount of complainers on this subject is staggering!

I don't think you understand the situation clearly.
Apple isn't going to be let off the hook with a quick 'oops it's a bug' crap. They lied. Now they are playing a losing hand with this PR bullshit that nobody believes.

This isn't going away. It's only getting started.
post #20 of 30
Mode, you're full of crap.

If anyone here has tested any of the recent Garmin GPS units outdoors with great line of sight on a completely clear day, you'll know that the iPhone is nothing short of phenomenal when it comes to GPS location acquisition. Phenomenal. The iPhone will often resolve in under 10 seconds, and there are plenty of times that the newest Garmin units will take 3-4 minutes or longer to get a fix.

Apple has made it clear that they are transmitting, using, sharing, and storing your location data in the freaking terms of service you agreed to. You don't like it? Then, like the plague, avoid the OTHER TOS you've been accepting through the years from other companies, because you'll be even more ticked off when you find out what THOSE companies are revealing in the fine print.

Apple is sending the information anonymously, using it to improve services and innovate products, and they're doing it in a way that is legal, ethical, straightforward, and valuable to everyone using the service or product. Seriously, the only people still whining about this are probably those that were so quick to call Apple nasty names and threaten legal action over something they knew NOTHING about. Get over it, whiners. If you think you're safer on ANY cellphone, or ANY other smartphone, then I dare you to switch.

But in my opinion, trusting the likes of Google with your sensitive personal information in order to avoid Apple's "Big-Brother" scariness sounds about as wise to me as jumping out of a speeding jeep in the Serengeti to outrun a pride of hungry lionesses on foot.

While you're bleeding.

With a T-Bone tied around your neck.

You think that's scary...just wait until they catch you.
post #21 of 30
Apple filed for a PATENT in 2009 for this technology about location tracking. It is not a bug. They need to come out and admit that they made a mistake.

I am not against location tracking. I have nothing to hide. It may one day save a man from wrong conviction and death sentence. It could also help catch a criminal. It could help locate a missing person. It could help locate a person in case of an accident. There are many good ways this technology is good. But there are people who do not want to be tracked.

SOLUTIONS? Apple should just create an on/off utility in the Settings, for people to choose whether they want to be tracked or not.

Once again, Apple applied for the Patent in 2009.
post #22 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by OC4Theo View Post

Apple filed for a PATENT in 2009 for this technology about location tracking. It is not a bug. They need to come out and admit that they made a mistake.

I am not against location tracking. I have nothing to hide. It may one day save a man from wrong conviction and death sentence. It could also help catch a criminal. It could help locate a missing person. It could help locate a person in case of an accident. There are many good ways this technology is good. But there are people who do not want to be tracked.

SOLUTIONS? Apple should just create an on/off utility in the Settings, for people to choose whether they want to be tracked or not.

Once again, Apple applied for the Patent in 2009.

Do you happen to have a link for that? I'm curious what it entails.

In general though, what would Apple be lying about, even if they had patented exactly what the iPhone has been doing? They aren't denying that location data is being collected, they're saying that it's anonymized and used to build a data base of WiFi and cell tower locations. They admit that they've overshot the necessary timeframe, does the patent in question specifically mention that?

OTOH if you're talking about opt-in location aware services, that's another matter that isn't really related to what's been going on lately.
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post #23 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by addabox View Post

Do you happen to have a link for that? I'm curious what it entails.

In general though, what would Apple be lying about, even if they had patented exactly what the iPhone has been doing? They aren't denying that location data is being collected, they're saying that it's anonymized and used to build a data base of WiFi and cell tower locations. They admit that they've overshot the necessary timeframe, does the patent in question specifically mention that?

OTOH if you're talking about opt-in location aware services, that's another matter that isn't really related to what's been going on lately.

He probably read this article.
http://blogs.forbes.com/kashmirhill/...calling-a-bug/ The problem with the article is that is assumes the patent, which shows an image of a iPhone with lines and location history that looks similar to the AppTrackers demo, is that consolidated.db is not your 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. Of course OC4Theo can say they lying about this but there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that shows this to be the case.
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post #24 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by OC4Theo View Post

...Apple should just create an on/off utility in the Settings, for people to choose whether they want to be tracked or not...

I suspect, some (most?) people don't want to be tracked SOME OF THE TIME, but they don't really care the remainder of the time.
In case they temporarily disable the feature, will there be a record of the gap in time when they didn't wish to be tracked? If so, that could be highly sensitive information, because that would pinpoint exactly when they are up to something fishy.
post #25 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by TBell View Post

Then you must really hate Google. The Chrome Browser, without my consent, would call home every ten minutes. It is the only browser that does it (according to Little Snitch on my Mac). Google mines information without anybodies permission, like the whole recording people's wifi traffic controversy.

If only everyone used Little Snitch, people would be so much more aware of how much crap various vendors are doing behind their backs. I hope you simply clicked "Forever" and "Deny". And then I hope you quickly did the same with with www. google-analytics.com, ssl.google-analytics.com and anything that has "doubleclick.net" in it!

Little Snitch is a huge comfort when cruising the net, and makes the contrast of having almost zero control over what's being sent out of your iOS devices all the more obvious and distressing. I'd give a nut for Little Snitch on iOS, but I can't imagine Apple will allow that functionality any time in the near future.

Quote:
Originally Posted by TBell View Post

When you subscribe to a magazine, without your permission, your name, address, and phone number are sold to third parties.

Been there, done that. And that's why I'll never subscribe to another hard-copy magazine again. The fact that Apple protects the privacy of their users who subscribe to iPad subscriptions is wonderful, and I hope they never, ever back down on that with the publishers.
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post #26 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by VanFruniken View Post

I suspect, some (most?) people don't want to be tracked SOME OF THE TIME, but they don't really care the remainder of the time.

Would anyone ever actually want to be tracked by a 3rd party? i.e. not your friends, but a company gathering "anonymous" data. When you use an app that you selected and purchased for a specific purpose, like recording your position on a hike, that's far different from being tracked at all times, or random times, by an invisible background app.

Also, remember, being tracked is NOT the same as being located. I think most people would generally like to be locatable for the purposes of E-911. That's not the same as having your movements recorded and archived over time.

Quote:
Originally Posted by VanFruniken View Post

In case they temporarily disable the feature, will there be a record of the gap in time when they didn't wish to be tracked? If so, that could be highly sensitive information, because that would pinpoint exactly when they are up to something fishy.

Very good point. With that in mind, if you DON'T want to be tracked occasionally, but don't really care the rest of the time, then in order to avoid this scenario you just need to turn off location services entirely!
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post #27 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by Blah64 View Post

Would anyone ever actually want to be tracked by a 3rd party? i.e. not your friends, but a company gathering "anonymous" data. When you use an app that you selected and purchased for a specific purpose, like recording your position on a hike, that's far different from being tracked at all times, or random times, by an invisible background app.

Also, remember, being tracked is NOT the same as being located. I think most people would generally like to be locatable for the purposes of E-911. That's not the same as having your movements recorded and archived over time...

I do believe part of the confusion is in the use of words. And many people seem to have in mind different definitions of "tracking". Especially some anal-ists, and the reporting press, may not fully understand some distinctions.

If we mean by tracking:
- being followed in real time by someone else, that's a serious thing, unless you want to be "locatable" (as on a hike or ski trip)
- logging, this may even be more serious, because of the permanent record, and individual events aren't missable like with real time tracking. However, many of us may not care that it is known well afterwards where we have been, as long as it wasn't in real time

How harmful the tracking is may depend on who is able to do the tracking (the spouse, the gov't, credit rating companies, private eyes, ..., some hacker,...)

Then there is the issue whether the individual is identifyable or not. Maintaining "crowd" data is less serious than keeping mobile devices separate in the records.

Time stamps can occur in the form of an expiration date or as a precise record allowing the reconstruction of actual timed trajectory of the mobile device.

There is also the issue of accessiblity
- on your phone vs. on a server that holds no secrets for gov. agencies or commercial entities (think Google)
- encrypted vs. unencrypted (decryptable by whom?)

We should remember that a lot of hardware is aware of sensitive information, which may be necessary for its mere operation. Should the data collection itself be heavily regulated or is the protection against (the possibility of) disclosure the main issue here? In any case no more info should be kept (and authorized) than absolutely necessary.

I'd rather trust Apple than Google or the Government. In any case the fewer instances that have control over your data, the better. And it is important that they are sufficiently knowledgeable about the security issues to protect your sensitive data. (Similarly, individual merchants are never to be trusted with your credit card data because they miss the resources and knowhow to avoid nuclear meltdowns ... -- er, accidental, unpredicted,..., disclosure of your data).
post #28 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mode View Post

I don't think you understand the situation clearly.
Apple isn't going to be let off the hook with a quick 'oops it's a bug' crap. They lied. Now they are playing a losing hand with this PR bullshit that nobody believes.

This isn't going away. It's only getting started.

"Nobody" believes? Have you spoken to everybody about this?

It's ok to have an opinion, but delusional if you think everyone shares it.
post #29 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by macwise View Post

Mode, you're full of crap.

If anyone here has tested any of the recent Garmin GPS units outdoors with great line of sight on a completely clear day, you'll know that the iPhone is nothing short of phenomenal when it comes to GPS location acquisition. Phenomenal. The iPhone will often resolve in under 10 seconds, and there are plenty of times that the newest Garmin units will take 3-4 minutes or longer to get a fix.

Apple has made it clear that they are transmitting, using, sharing, and storing your location data in the freaking terms of service you agreed to. You don't like it? Then, like the plague, avoid the OTHER TOS you've been accepting through the years from other companies, because you'll be even more ticked off when you find out what THOSE companies are revealing in the fine print.

Apple is sending the information anonymously, using it to improve services and innovate products, and they're doing it in a way that is legal, ethical, straightforward, and valuable to everyone using the service or product. Seriously, the only people still whining about this are probably those that were so quick to call Apple nasty names and threaten legal action over something they knew NOTHING about. Get over it, whiners. If you think you're safer on ANY cellphone, or ANY other smartphone, then I dare you to switch.

But in my opinion, trusting the likes of Google with your sensitive personal information in order to avoid Apple's "Big-Brother" scariness sounds about as wise to me as jumping out of a speeding jeep in the Serengeti to outrun a pride of hungry lionesses on foot.

While you're bleeding.

With a T-Bone tied around your neck.

You think that's scary...just wait until they catch you.

Ya! Gmail scans your emails so they can focus their ads.... Who knows what else. Sure google disclosed, but very few understand what exactly their legal mumbo jumbo means. Somehow this has not been a problem for the privacy kooks!
post #30 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by TBell View Post

Then you must really hate Google. The Chrome Browser, without my consent, would call home every ten minutes. It is the only browser that does it (according to Little Snitch on my Mac). Google mines information without anybodies permission, like the whole recording people's wifi traffic controversy.

Lots of companies keep records without telling people. Take for instance, CarFax reports. Whenever your car gets services or in a major accident, it is typed in some data base. Companies like Car Fax utilize those data bases.

When you subscribe to a magazine, without your permission, your name, address, and phone number are sold to third parties.

I actually love Apple. I own their stock and even sell nake PUTs on AAPL. I'm just saying this isn't crowdsourcing. Do the magazines call what they do "crowdsourcing?" By SJ's definition, it is!
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