Both Google (NSDQ: GOOG) and Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) have been put on the defensive regarding charges that they track users of their respective mobile devices, but today, Apple is hoping to put those worries to rest. In a Q&A press release, Apple asks and answers the big question:
Q: Why is Apple tracking the location of my iPhone?
A: Apple is not tracking the location of your iPhone. Apple has never done so and has no plans to ever do so.
Actually, as further answers in the Q&A show, it’s not that simple. For example, it does sound as if Apple is saying on one hand that it’s not tracking users’ locations. But on the other, it does no where hundreds of users are in relation to wi-fi hotspots and cell towers.
The company says: “The iPhone is not logging your location. Rather, it’s 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.”
It goes on to say that finding the hotspots and cell towers is done in the aggregate. “These calculations are performed live on the iPhone using a crowd-sourced database of Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data that is generated by tens of millions of iPhones sending the geo-tagged locations of nearby Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers in an anonymous and encrypted form to Apple.”
In other words, Apple insists that this collection and tracking of locations is anonymous. “The data is sent to Apple in an anonymous and encrypted form,” the company says. “Apple cannot identify the source of this data.”
But just to make sure that there are no loopholes and remaining charges, Apple says a software update is coming that will make sure locations of individuals are not tracked.
Q: When I turn off Location Services, why does my iPhone sometimes continue updating its Wi-Fi and cell tower data from Apple’s crowd-sourced database?
A: It shouldn’t. This is a bug, which we plan to fix shortly.
The software fix will come sometime in the next few weeks. Among the promised tweaks:
– reduces the size of the crowd-sourced Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower database cached on the iPhone,
– ceases backing up this cache, and
– deletes this cache entirely when Location Services is turned off.