Steve Jobs outlines Apple's efforts to clarify iPhone location tracking issue

Posted:
in iPhone edited January 2014
In an interview with Wall Street Journal blogger Ina Fried, Apple's chief executive Steve Jobs explained the steps his company took to respond to the explosion of interest in reports concerning how iOS devices use location services.



Apple's official response to questions regarding how iPhones use, store and retain location data was published earlier today after the issue erupted a week ago.



Fried's interview with Jobs and Apple executives Phil Schiller and Scott Forstall outlined why the company took almost a week to respond to the initial report.



"We?re an engineering-driven company," Jobs said. ?When people accuse us of things, the first thing we want to do is find out the truth. That took a certain amount of time to track all of these things down. And the accusations were coming day by day.



"By the time we had figured this all out, it took a few days. Then writing it up and trying to make it intelligible when this is a very high-tech topic took a few days. And here we are less than a week later.?



This all happened before



Apple's response to the snowballing coverage of iPhone location tracking was similar in some respects to last summer's major story of controversy swirling around iPhone 4 regarding signal attenuation caused by placement of the user's hand and the design of its antenna.



Apple prepared an extensive response to "AntennaGate" last July, nearly a month after a report by Gizmodo set off a hailstorm of chatter that mixed together nuggets of real issues with buckets of rampant hysteria that predicted a massive recall or the failure of iPhone 4 as a product.



Apple originally acknowledged the issue within days, but was criticized for not providing up the minute rebuttals to each new report issued between the third week of June and its official press conference addressing the antenna issues in mid July.



In responding to the new reports brewing about location services, Apple's measured response in the form of publishing clear answers and conducting limited interviews indicates the company is learning to react faster to address real issues before they can be blown too far out of proportion.



Avoiding comment on competitors



Jobs was also careful not to present evidence that other makers were doing the same or worse in regard to location tracking. During last summer's AntennaGate fiasco, Jobs presented a variety of phones from Motorola, HTC, Nokia, RIM and others exhibiting the same behavior as iPhone 4, noting the antenna performance was a complex, ongoing technical problem facing the entire industry.



That tactic may have backfired in quelling the issue, as executives from RIM, Nokia, HTC and Samsung all repudiated Apple's demonstrations as being, in the words of RIM executives, an "attempt to draw RIM into Apple's self-made debacle," while Nokia mocked Apple's "death grip" issues as being something its own phones had no issues with, despite Nokia warning its own customers in owners' manuals to "avoid touching the antenna area" and that "contact with antennas affects the communication quality."



In contrast, when asked today whether Apple's competitors, including Google's Android, 'needed to do a better job on privacy issues' regarding location services, Jobs declined to comment, but did state that "some of them don?t do what we do, that?s for sure."



Balancing sensitive location information with features



Instead of comparing the iOS to competing platforms, Jobs emphasized Apple's efforts protect users' privacy as a simple, two-part policy: "Number one is we get consent from users if we are going to use location, or we never use location. That?s what we do. It?s very straightforward," Jobs said.



"We haven?t been tracking anybody?s location and 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," he reiterated.



"We build a crowdsourced database of Wi-Fi and cell tower hot spots, but those can be over 100 miles away from where you are. Those are not telling you anything about your location. That?s what people saw on the phone and mistook it for location."



You're holding the data wrong



Forstall, who leads Apple's iOS development, added in the interview that "one thing I think we have learned is that, the cache we had on the system, the point of that cache, is we do all the location calculations on the phone itself so no location calculations are done separately.



"You can imagine in an ideal world the entire crowdsourced database is on the phone and it just never has to talk to a server to do these calculations to even get the cache. What we do is we cache a subset of that. We picked a size, around 2MB, which is less than half a song. It turns out it was fairly large and could hold items for a long time.



"We had that protected on the system. It had root protection and was sandboxed from any other application. But if someone hacks their phone and jailbreaks it, they can get to this and misunderstand the point of that.



"It?s all anonymous and cannot be traced back to any individual phone or person. But we need to be even more careful about what files are on the phone, even if they are protected," he said.



Previously, it had been reported that iOS 4 had been recording a trail of the user's locations that was never erased, and some had speculated that is was simply a bug and that old entries should have been culled. Forstall's explanation went further to note that the discovery of the location data had simply been reported wrong based on faulty assumptions, but also that Apple had learned from the situation that additional steps could be taken to reduce even the appearance of sensitive data being held for unknown purposes.



Apple plans tech lessons to bring society up to speed



Jobs added that "as new technology comes into the society there is a period of adjustment and education 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 last week. I think the right time to educate people is when there is no problem. i think we will probably ask ourselves how we can do some of that, as an industry."



Asked about the questions raised by the US Congress, Jobs said, "I think Apple will be testifying. They have asked us to come and we will honor their request, of course. I think it is great that they are investigating this and I think it will be interesting to see how aggressive or lazy the press is on this in terms of investigating the rest of the participants in the industry and finding out what they do."



That's when Jobs added, "some of them don?t do what we do, that?s for sure," which sounded like a dare to journalists covering the issue to look into how Apple's policies compare to other platforms, rather than laying it out as a completive message as Apple did with the AntennaGate issue last summer.



There's an app for that



Fried asked about the role of third party apps in location services, noting that there are "apps that do as little, on the Android side, as providing battery information and want access to the dialer and location information. Do you think consumers ought to be paying attention to the individual apps they are using and what sorts of permissions those apps (require)?"



Jobs answered, "We think so and that?s why we were the first to institute a procedure that cannot be worked around by applications where if any application wants access to location data, it has to ask the user first. It has to get the user?s permission on a per-application basis."



Forstall added, "we are really vigilent about privacy and location and we have worked really hard to make the experience as transparent as possible and give the user full control. As you say, whenever any user wants any application to access their location, the user has to approve that on a per-application basis. That?s even true for Apple?s built-in applications.



"In addition, whenever any application uses location, an indicator appears in the status bar. In settings, you can see a list of every single application on the phone that a user has approved for location and the ones that they have not approved for location. They can actually go and turn it off temporarily for an app, if they like.



"In addition, any application which has used location within the last 24 hours is shown, with an indicator in settings. So a user can know which applications that a user has approved for location, have actually used location recently. We think this is incredibly fine grain and the best out there."
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 29
    hill60hill60 Posts: 6,991member
    Mock outrage and hysteria is sickening, it paints America as a nation of whining, snot nosed brats.
  • Reply 2 of 29
    ktappektappe Posts: 763member
    Ina scored a coup in getting this interview. Probably over the moon about it.
  • Reply 3 of 29
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by hill60 View Post


    Mock outrage and hysteria is sickening, it paints America as a nation of whining, snot nosed brats.



    I agree with the sentiment, but in today's hit/ad driven hype for what is called news, we are never going to get back to something sane until the money and motivation for exaggeration is removed. It is a shame that when computers could offer so much help in raising the level of discourse, by broader inclusion, that the hype-mongers then use that inclusion to pass off all the trash that we wind up getting.



    Oh, well....
  • Reply 4 of 29
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by hill60 View Post


    Mock outrage and hysteria is sickening, it paints America as a nation of whining, snot nosed brats.



    Which is precisely what it is.
  • Reply 5 of 29
    djkikromedjkikrome Posts: 189member
    Don't our elected officials have more pressing concerns to deal with like the shit economy or the fact that they pay themselves exorbiant amounts of monies for what little they do, and get paid after they are removed from office, and for life get government paid health care while the rest of us can't afford it?



    Exercise term limits ourselves and vote these idiots out who take simple stuff like this and turn it into bigger news than the wars or suffering of our own peoples.



    If these officials want to eff with someone, mess with companies like this that don't protect info very well and truly "spy" on their users…

    http://www.ps3news.com/PS3-Online/ps...sues-and-bans/
  • Reply 6 of 29
    cameronjcameronj Posts: 2,357member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Bloodshotrollin'red View Post


    Which is precisely what it is.



    Aren't people often to be found parading through the streets in London protesting the price of a costly service that they have in the past received for free? Isn't protesting having to pay for a valuable service that one gets kinda bratty?
  • Reply 7 of 29
    monstrositymonstrosity Posts: 2,203member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Bloodshotrollin'red View Post


    Which is precisely what it is.



    And it's precisely because of people like yourself who infest your dreary miserable island that I have jumped ship to the states.

    Half of you morons think that george bush blew up the twin towers and that the moon landing were created in a studio...
  • Reply 8 of 29
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by hill60 View Post


    Mock outrage and hysteria is sickening, it paints America as a nation of whining, snot nosed brats.



    That's a nonsensical overgeneralization and an unnecessary slam.



    Many other countries, including Germany, France, Italy, and South Korea are pursuing this issue.
  • Reply 9 of 29
    akf2000akf2000 Posts: 223member
    weird seeing Scott mention jailbreaking by name, has that happened before, has an Apple exec said "jailbreaking"?
  • Reply 10 of 29
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Bloodshotrollin'red View Post


    Which is precisely what it is.



    Must be alot nicer living in a place that spends millions to honor a bullshit useless monarchy that has no real power.
  • Reply 11 of 29
    kellya74ukellya74u Posts: 171member


    deleted

  • Reply 12 of 29
    mstonemstone Posts: 11,510member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by extremeskater View Post


    Must be alot nicer living in a place that spends millions to honor a bullshit useless monarchy that has no real power.



    They aren't spending any of your money. why should you care? They have their princes and princesses we have our crazy Hollywood celebrities. It is just news media ad dollar driven mindless entertainment but it promotes tourism and good will. What's the harm?
  • Reply 13 of 29
    The Internets is a big echo chamber. Filled with stupid.

    Apple should create an Internets shitstorm response team to handle PR crises
  • Reply 14 of 29
    diddydiddy Posts: 282member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by kellya74u View Post


    After buying iMovie for my iPhone, I made sure location services was turned off because I didn't want my photos geotagged. When launching iMovie, I get the message, "iMovie cannot access your photos or videos. To enable access, open the Settings app. tap 'Location Services and set the iMovie switch to 'On'. Why is that necessary? Why can't I use the program without location services? As a result, I've never used the $5 program.



    Were they created in the camera app?
  • Reply 15 of 29
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by kellya74u View Post


    After buying iMovie for my iPhone, I made sure location services was turned off because I didn't want my photos geotagged. When launching iMovie, I get the message, "iMovie cannot access your photos or videos. To enable access, open the Settings app. tap 'Location Services and set the iMovie switch to 'On'. Why is that necessary? Why can't I use the program without location services? As a result, I've never used the $5 program.



    I reckon your life would be much easier with the homemade movie you are making with the location services enabled. It is one of the many unique iMovie features introduced since the last along with automatic face recognition etc. and it linked. Quite rightly it persists.
  • Reply 16 of 29
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by mstone View Post


    They aren't spending any of your money. why should you care? They have their princes and princesses we have our crazy Hollywood celebrities. It is just news media ad dollar driven mindless entertainment but it promotes tourism and good will. What's the harm?



    I don't care, I just find it funny when people that live in countries that feel cradle to grave entitlements are owed them try and knock the United States. Guess they fail to understand a company like Apple was built because of what the US has to offer.
  • Reply 17 of 29
    cameronjcameronj Posts: 2,357member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by kellya74u View Post


    After buying iMovie for my iPhone, I made sure location services was turned off because I didn't want my photos geotagged. When launching iMovie, I get the message, "iMovie cannot access your photos or videos. To enable access, open the Settings app. tap 'Location Services and set the iMovie switch to 'On'. Why is that necessary? Why can't I use the program without location services? As a result, I've never used the $5 program.



    Probably better that you go back to your Nokia.
  • Reply 18 of 29
    asciiascii Posts: 5,941member
    It's a bit disingenuous to claim that a list of nearby hotspots and cell towers "are not telling you anything about your location." Just look at the result when you plot them on a map.
  • Reply 19 of 29
    grouty2grouty2 Posts: 42member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by extremeskater View Post


    I don't care, I just find it funny when people that live in countries that feel cradle to grave entitlements are owed them try and knock the United States. Guess they fail to understand a company like Apple was built because of what the US has to offer.



    I'm not sure this is the place to debate social, economic or political systems but since you started it...



    I think Americans are free to live any way they wish and to have whatever form of social welfare they are comfortable with. That this differs from the rest of the industrialised world was evident from the amount of opposition to the reforms the Obama administration introduced in healthcare. For those of us from other nations with a different ethos we feel comfortable paying higher taxes in order to reap broader benefits in terms of social security, healthcare and aged care to name a few. This is one reason the USA can boast the biggest differential between the rich and poor of any western country. I'm not judging America her. I'm just stating what most economists see as cause and effect.



    Please don't characterise people from other nations as spongers because we have entered into a social contract with our governments to provide what we see as basic human needs through taxation. We pay for it and expect our governments to provide it in the same way you might pay an insurance company and expect it to pay out in your time of need.



    Please don't make the mistake of thinking that your nation has a monopoly on innovation either. Much of the technology that Apple employs to produce its outstanding products is a product of non-american industry. The displays used in iPhone/iPad (Korean), the A5 chip (British design) etc. etc. Let's not confuse design with technology although even Apple's chief designer is British. Apple is a great company and America is a great country but other nations have their attractions and I for one prefer to live where I am (Australia - having moved from UK) where I feel the balance of quality of life against government interference is as good as I have found anywhere.



    Just my 2¢.
  • Reply 20 of 29
    zindakozindako Posts: 468member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by monstrosity View Post


    And it's precisely because of people like yourself who infest your dreary miserable island that I have jumped ship to the states.

    Half of you morons think that george bush blew up the twin towers and that the moon landing were created in a studio...



    If you think humans had the technology to visit the moon and fly back to earth 60 years ago, seems you're the bigger fool.
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