Location tracking probe expands despite 2001 FCC law requiring all phones track users

Posted:
in iPhone edited January 2014
The US House and Senate is widening investigations into mobile location tracking, despite a federal mandate on the books since 2001 that requires wireless carriers to track the location of users.



A report by Reuters noted that the the House Energy and Commerce Committee has sent letters to Apple, Google, HP, Microsoft, Nokia and RIM requesting more information about how devices use and store location data.



The US Senate is also addressing privacy concerns, similarly tipped off by a report that Apple's iOS 4.x devices maintain an internal database cache of generalized location data that appears to never go away, and is compiled regardless of whether Location Services is turned on or not.



The issue has stoked the strongest bipartisan cooperation in American politics seen in recent history, and appears to be generating more interest and scrutiny by elected officials than Net Neutrality, the BP oil spill, employment or the economy at large.



However, the US Congress originally passed the 1996 Telecommunications Act, under which the Federal Communications Commission mandated that, as a report by Geek.com from 2001 noted, all wireless devices "be able to locate 67 percent of callers to 911 within 50 meters that elect the handset solution while those using network technology must be able to locate the caller within 100 meters," a rule that expanded to cover all new cell phones by late 2002.



The purpose of the tracking law was to enable 911 operators to locate mobile users in an emergency. Enhanced 911 services (E911) require mobile operators to relay an emergency caller's location within 50 to 300 meters. E911 laws also apply to many VoIP and femtocell products, such as AT&T's 3G MicroCell, and complicated the deployment of that device due to requirements that callers' locations must be trackable for emergency response purposes.



What has changed in the last decade is that cell phones have shifted from being simple phone devices to being full fledged computers. When Apple's iPhone debuted in 2007, most smartphones ran JavaVM, which limited the capabilities of third party apps.



After Apple added user-accessible GPS services to the iPhone 3G and opened its App Store, it tightly restricted how third party apps could access Location Services, forcing them to ask the user for permission to access location information.



Google's Android OS enhanced the existing Java phone market among vendors such as Motorola, LG and Samsung to run apps of similar sophistication as Apple's iOS, but it also takes a more permissive approach to users' privacy, asking users to grant apps broad rights to access hardware features at their installation.



Both Apple and Google have since expanded their use of location data to power location-based advertising, with both creating opt-out routes for users who do not wish to have their location data used for such purposes. Apple also uses location data to enable users to remotely locate, lock or wipe data from their devices using MobileMe.



Apple has been the target of particular scrutiny for using a database that caches location data to rapidly calculate the user's current location. While this data remains on the phone and is backed up to iTunes, press reports have portrayed it as being instantly delivered to Apple to maintain up to the minute reports of the exact location of the company's 189 million iOS devices.



A similar panic regarding the use of location data as outlined in Apple's iOS privacy policies was converted into the shocking headline "Apple collecting, sharing iPhone users' precise locations" in a piece by David Sarno of the LA Times last summer, generating a swift populist reaction by two congressmen.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 145
    Detecting the location is different from tracking and storing in the database, is different from storing them unencrypted, and is miles away from sending it back to the server.
  • Reply 2 of 145
    macwisemacwise Posts: 83member
    AKA Elected officials are morons, the public are lemmings, and to find a man who can think for himself is like finding water in a desert. A welcome abstraction.
  • Reply 3 of 145
    Look, we know that this whole fiasco is nothing, but what does locating people when they call 911 have to do with private companies tracking you for business purposes?
  • Reply 4 of 145
    solipsismsolipsism Posts: 25,726member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by sprockkets View Post


    Look, we know that this whole fiasco is nothing, but what does locating people when they call 911 have to do with private companies tracking you for business purposes?



    Where is Apple tracking YOU without your consent?
  • Reply 5 of 145
    neiltc13neiltc13 Posts: 182member
    I'm not bothered about whether my phone stores data about where I go. What I am bothered about is that when Apple is asked what data their phone stores, there is a huge silence and no comment from the company, but when Google is asked the same question they give a prompt and clear reply.



    What does Apple have to hide?
  • Reply 6 of 145
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by solipsism View Post


    Where is Apple tracking YOU without your consent?



    That's not what I asked or brought up.
  • Reply 7 of 145
    solipsismsolipsism Posts: 25,726member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by neiltc13 View Post


    I'm not bothered about whether my phone stores data about where I go. What I am bothered about is that when Apple is asked what data their phone stores, there is a huge silence and no comment from the company, but when Google is asked the same question they give a prompt and clear reply.



    What does Apple have to hide?



    WTH?! You know the data it stores. It’s been documented [again] all last week.
  • Reply 8 of 145
    zarenzaren Posts: 49member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by solipsism View Post


    WTH?! You know the data it stores. It?s been documented all last week.



    Last week? It was all documented last YEAR... when Congress asked Apple to explain data retention on the iPhone.



    Or SEVERAL YEARS ago... when Apple documented the process at WWDC.



    Nothing more than a fishing expedition for fun and profit, to avoid the hard work of fixing the country, getting us out of debt, and bringing our GIs home.
  • Reply 9 of 145
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by neiltc13 View Post


    I'm not bothered about whether my phone stores data about where I go. What I am bothered about is that when Apple is asked what data their phone stores, there is a huge silence and no comment from the company, but when Google is asked the same question they give a prompt and clear reply.



    What does Apple have to hide?



    Apple has nothing to hide. In fact, it seems Apple does less with this data (does not send back to its own servers) than Android does.



    They are just terrible at PR. The "antennagate" nonsense showed it clearly. This is further confirming that.
  • Reply 10 of 145
    djsherlydjsherly Posts: 1,031member
    Why do the title and byline contradict each other?



    solipsism: I think the point being made is that Apple have been resolutely silent on the matter. Not that one knows the nuts and bolts of the issue.
  • Reply 11 of 145
    iansilviansilv Posts: 283member
    Doesn't this seem like something that will be fixed as a bug in the next update? I mean, seriously- if Apple does not download the data, then people are getting worked up about what? That the data is stored on your phone?? Didn't they already say it was a bug?



    Either way, I'm glad our Congress has something to do now that our national debt crisis, wars in the middle East, weakening dollar, broken education system and loss of manufacturing base have all been fixed.
  • Reply 12 of 145
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by iansilv View Post


    Either way, I'm glad our Congress has something to do now that our national debt crisis, wars in the middle East, weakening dollar, broken education system and loss of manufacturing base have all been fixed.



    That's just DeD pushing his spin



    Quote:
    Originally Posted by iansilv View Post


    Doesn't this seem like something that will be fixed as a bug in the next update? I mean, seriously- if Apple does not download the data, then people are getting worked up about what? That the data is stored on your phone?? Didn't they already say it was a bug?



    Well, I quite like that I can restore a new iPhone from the backup on my computer and have an identical copy of that phone. So in that sense having the iPhone data on the computer isn't a 'bug', but it's also not telling Apple servers so I'm not really worried.



    Ok, perhaps they could encrypt the backup. That'd be useful for other things too. But if I'm that worried then perhaps I should encrypt my drive anyway (which Apple does provide), and that would encrypt my iPhone backup anyway right...



    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Daniel Eran Dilger View Post


    A report by Reuters noted that the the House Energy and Commerce Committee has sent letters to Apple, Google, HP, Microsoft, Nokia and RIM requesting more information about how devices use and store location data.



    Now if only they could take this location data, and apply it against my iPhoto photos, to give them automatic location data (roughly).



    I wonder if Apple has any other intentions for storing data for such a long while. Perhaps a new social-media service that shows your favourite places (based on how long you are there). I can't think of many services that require a year of data besides advertising - but personally I'd rather see an ad for my local Pizza shop than one of the big chains.
  • Reply 13 of 145
    The title of this article is disingenuous and sloppy, at best. The FCC law, per your own article, doesn't require a historical database of locations. The law doesn't require tracking, it requires the ability to locate in real time!
  • Reply 14 of 145
    magicjmagicj Posts: 406member
    A very poorly written article filled with so many bad pieces of information that I'm not going to spend time debunking it.



    I'll just say that, speaking as an small iPhone developer, my iPhone is now off and will stay off until this issue is resolved.
  • Reply 15 of 145
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by GregAlexander View Post


    Ok, perhaps they could encrypt the backup. That'd be useful for other things too. But if I'm that worried then perhaps I should encrypt my drive anyway (which Apple does provide), and that would encrypt my iPhone backup anyway right...







    "Encrypt iPhone backup" right there front and centre
  • Reply 16 of 145
    cameronjcameronj Posts: 2,357member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by GregAlexander View Post


    Now if only they could take this location data, and apply it against my iPhoto photos, to give them automatic location data (roughly).



    Already does?
  • Reply 17 of 145
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 32,959member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by iansilv View Post


    Doesn't this seem like something that will be fixed as a bug in the next update? I mean, seriously- if Apple does not download the data, then people are getting worked up about what? That the data is stored on your phone?? Didn't they already say it was a bug?



    Either way, I'm glad our Congress has something to do now that our national debt crisis, wars in the middle East, weakening dollar, broken education system and loss of manufacturing base have all been fixed.



    Apple downloads the data every 12 hours. Google does it several times an hour, and Microsoft stores it directly on their servers.
  • Reply 18 of 145
    The most irrelevant news post I've seen in quite some time. Singular E911 triangulation for emergency services, needed in case a 911 call is dropped, is quite different from continuous data tracking and storage, which Apple is accused of doing. The only reason I can think this news piece was written was to provide the shoddy and flimsy defense that only a fanboy can provide.



    It's like those fanboys who blame the current PSN outage and data compromise on Anonymous, even though it's clearly a black hat or Russian who exploited Sony's incompetence with networks. Disgusting, really. This news post deserves removal for such unabashed dissociation with reality.
  • Reply 19 of 145
    archosarchos Posts: 152member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by onigami View Post


    The most irrelevant news post I've seen in quite some time. Singular E911 triangulation for emergency services, needed in case a 911 call is dropped, is quite different from continuous data tracking and storage, which Apple is accused of doing. The only reason I can think this news piece was written was to provide the shoddy and flimsy defense that only a fanboy can provide.



    It's like those fanboys who blame the current PSN outage and data compromise on Anonymous, even though it's clearly a black hat or Russian who exploited Sony's incompetence with networks. Disgusting, really. This news post deserves removal for such unabashed dissociation with reality.



    I think if you put down your Hysterical Thesaurus for a moment, you might be able to piece together the idea that for a phone to report your location, it needs to be able to calculate it. The purpose of the location database is to find the current location instantly. There is nothing controversial about Apple storing location data in a cache, and the article makes no effort to "excuse" such a non-problem.



    If you are afraid of technology, live in a cave. Also, be sure not to use your SSN or activate a camera that uses geolocation or any number of other devices that stores and records data of any sort.
  • Reply 20 of 145
    magicjmagicj Posts: 406member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Archos View Post


    There is nothing controversial about Apple storing location data in a cache



    Which would be why they're having Congressional hearings on the matter?
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