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Apple Speaks: We’re (Sort Of) Not Tracking You

Apple speaks! One week after two researchers revealed that your iPhone is storing your movements, the company has finally broken its silence. Here’s the headline: “Apple is not tracking the location of your iPhone. Apple has never done so and has no plans to ever do so.”

That’s telling you.

Apple says we’re confused, that’s all. One tiny caveat: if you click an iPhone ad, you share your location with that advertiser.

Getty Images

“Why is everyone so concerned about this?” Apple asks itself in an online Q&A. It replies, “Users are confused, partly because the creators of this new technology including Apple have not provided enough education about these issues to date.” Apple says the issue has raised complex technical questions that can’t be answered in a single soundbite, but insists all data collected is anonymous.

Apple says it’s not logging your location. “Rather it’s maintaining a database of Wifi 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.”

In other words, it’s safe to go to the dry cleaners again (and stop off at a bar on the way home).

However, Apple says the iPhone shouldn’t keep updating your location data when you have turned off your “location services” option on your phone. “This is a bug,” the company says, “which we plan to fix shortly.” Any location data sent to Apple is anonymous and encrypted, and part of what it calls a “crowd-sourced database” generated by tens of millions of users. Still, expect the use of the word “bug” to go viral.

Does Apple share data collected from iPhones with third parties? It’s complicated.

Apple notes: “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.” (They are our italics, not Apple’s.)

The statement is more complicated and long-winded than Greta Garbo’s when she broke her silence on the silver screen. But the message from consumers and lawmakers is crystal clear. We heart our iPhones and other gadgets. We don’t want to be alone. But, when it comes to tracking our every move without our consent, we want to be left alone. It’s a subtle, but very important, difference.

Are you satisfied with Apple’s explanation?


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    • Are you satisfied with Apple’s explanation? No.

    • No, the explanation begets more questions than it answers. For example:

      (1) What advertisements are being referenced? I don’t get ads on my iphone. Now there may be apps like AP or NYTimes that run ads, but I don’t consider those to be Apple ads.

      (2) What access does law enforcement have to Apple’s database? If I use a location app. when I’m drinking beer in a bar, will Apple respond to a subpoena for this info in a subsequent criminal or civil action?

      (3) If I use an App that tracks my location (or click on an advert) does apple store this info for its own future use (or for future use by other companies or apps)?

      (4) What do you mean by “location services” option? My phone uses my location all the time when I access google maps, yelp, and many other apps. Do I have to turn off my location entirely? If so that would render many of these apps useless.

    • your hypothetical mileage tracking app is not possible with the “tracking” that is mentioned in the article. The phone logs nearby cell towers and wifi hotspots – not precise GPS coordinates, which would be needed for accurate mileage. I actually downloaded the free app created by the researches who discovered this bug, and I saw exactly what my iPhone “tracked.” None of the locations were precise, and some blips were miles and miles outside of cities I visited – nowhere near where I had actually been.

      Generally speaking, though, your mileage app is an interesting and feasible one, but ti would require explicit consent and permission from the user.

    • I don’t have a phone that is smart enough to do anything more than make and receive calls or texts. I don’t need to be in constant contact with the cyberworld throughout every minute of the day nor do I need up to the minute updates on news, weather, friends, or the stock market.
      If someone needs me right away, they can call.

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