Apple brass provide more color on Locationgate (updated)

Apple brass provide more color on Locationgate (updated)

Summary: Steve Jobs, Phil Schiller and Scott Forstall answer questions about the ongoing Locationgate scandal.

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All Things D's Ina Fried scored an exclusive telephone interview with Steve Jobs, Phil Schiller and Scott Forstall and was able to get more detail on the ongoing Locationgate scandal.

In the interview Jobs reiterated Apple's earlier statement on the controversial consolidated.db file generated by iOS 4:

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.

Jobs also accepted some of the blame for the fiasco, (again) stating that it's an educational issue that needs to be addressed by the technology industry:

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.

He also revealed that Apple will be testifying before Congress next week, although Jobs didn't specify who would be representing the company at the hearings.

I think Apple will be testifying... They have asked us to come and we will honor their request, of course.

In a follow-up post on Mobilized, Fried posts comments from Apple VP's Phil Schiller:

Schiller: 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. It’s not something that people feel is private because it is really not about them. It’s a coagulated total of all traffic. These crowdsourced databases are sort of like that.

...and Scott Forstall:

Forstall: 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 (or) 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.

Kudos to Fried on the scoopage.

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27 comments
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  • RE: Apple brass provide more color on Locationgate (updated)

    So once again it is the public's fault due to the fact that they are under-educated about the consolidated.db that takes coordinates for every movement on your iphone and synchs with iTunes every time you plug it in. The same iTunes account that mandates only one user at a time. Anonymous my ass. Don't believe the hype. Apple is going to pay for this one, except, oh wait, the SCOTUS just ruled that class-action lawsuits can be avoided by corporations.
    hoaxoner
    • It doesn't even log the phone's location... Get a clue..

      @hoaxoner and take off the tinfoil hat.. Lol.. It logs cell tower an wifi network locations.. and the reason why people were reporting that some of the locations they hadn't been to or not in the time reported is because some of the locations are crowd sourced.. I.e. Not even from your iPhone.. no one could use this info to say anything about where exactly you have been because the source of some of the info may not even be from you.. This is borne out by people that have explored it.. Sheesh!! get a clue...
      doctorSpoc
      • Nonsense

        @doctorSpoc so you are stating that the data on phone A is somehow linked/tied/available/sent/received/etc by another phone and this explains why we were not there but somewhere else??? But but but Apple said the data stays with the iphone and itunes (and iapple as well?). Don't make excuses my friend and read what you write and really explain in plain english for us uneducated people that Apple is referring to. Simply stated...how does a wifi or cell tower location show up on my iPhone when I have never been there.
        Bradish1
      • RE: Apple brass provide more color on Locationgate (updated)

        @ Bradish
        "Don't make excuses my friend and read what you write and really explain in plain english for us uneducated people that Apple is referring to."

        Take your own advice. It is not necessary for ANY data from consolidated.db to be transferred for data that happens to be in consolidated.db to be transferred, and then d/led to other people's phones.
        Location data is sent periodically, after randomization of Phone ID info. That this data matches data that also gets stored in consolidated.db is neither nefarious NOR shocking.
        DeusXMachina
    • Did you really read what was written? Apple accepted that they as part of

      @hoaxoner: ... the industry did not educate much to explain what is going on; <b>they blame themselves, not people.</b>

      One has to be really religious to deny direct speech so blatantly to once again accuse Apple of whatever.
      DDERSSS
      • oh, really? Read again, please

        @denisrs
        We haven?t?as an industry?done a very good job educating people.
        FADS_z
      • RE: Apple brass provide more color on Locationgate (updated)

        @FADS_z YOU need to read it again... [b]We haventas an industrydone a very good job educating people.[/b] This is a direct quote from Steve Jobs saying that he and Apple (and others) as an industry have not done a very good job of educating people. In other words Steve Jobs and Apple are shouldering the "blame" for this, not shifting the blame to their customer base. How did you pass remedial English anyhow? This is basic reading comprehension...
        athynz
    • what about the other players?

      @hoaxoner
      here is what steve jobs also said in ina's interview: "it will be interesting to see how aggressively the press tracks the issue and looks at what other players in the industry do. Some of them don?t do what we do, that?s for sure."

      yes it will be very interesting to see if the tech press will be able to follow that hint (i guess the company starts with a G) and find some real privacy issues instead of just another baseless, phony apple outrage story. but i am not that confident, because instead of unfunded claims and strong personal opinions it would require some real investigation work and technical expertise. something you don't find at zndet usually.
      banned from zdnet
    • Did you actually read this?

      @hoaxoner A quote from Steve Jobs :"[b]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.[/b]" Looks like here Steve is blaming himself and the industry as a whole for not educating the consumer - how is he saying that it is the consumer's fault?

      Stop with the obvious FUD ABAer - it makes you look like an uninformed, clueless, and ignorant troll.
      athynz
      • RE: Apple brass provide more color on Locationgate (updated)

        @athynz
        Your biased interactions with this issue betray you. And name calling is not exactly a good way to put it.

        Put your apologist sores away and realize what is going on and the fact that the explanation is crap.
        hoaxoner
      • RE: Apple brass provide more color on Locationgate (updated)

        @hoaxoner How is what I said apologist? You claim that Apple in this case and every other case has put the blame on the consumer and yet Job's statement has proven you wrong. I'm not happy that this data is so easily accessible nor am I completely happy with Apple taking so long to acknowledge the issue but their explanation seems reasonable and Jobs did say that Apple was at fault and will fix this.<br><br>Besides I'm not the only one here with a bias - I not only admit it I see beyond my bias and see the facts good or bad... and do my best to counter the FUD you biased fanboys spew while you see the facts and spin them to reflect your own bias. <br><br>As for my name calling - note I did not call you names per se, I said your uninformed posts make you <i>appear to be </i>uninformed, clueless, ignorant, and a troll. If that hurts then perhaps I hit a nerve and you can either sulk about it, complain about it, or learn from it.
        athynz
  • RE: Apple brass provide more color on Locationgate (updated)

    @hoaxoner

    This is not a big deal. It is the media with their mob mentality that created this. Congress disappoints me the most. They certainly have better things to do that this. Shame on them and shame on you. Wish you could think for yourself and not so easily swayed by the sensationalistic media.
    marvinPA
    • RE: Apple brass provide more color on Locationgate (updated)

      @marvinPA
      More apologists for Apple. I love it. Any tracking information that is stored without knowledge and eventually sent to a server location is a bit of a red flag, I am sorry.
      hoaxoner
      • You really don't care to know the details

        @hoaxoner
        This is not tracking information. This is not data about the location of the phone. This is data about the location of networks the phone may need to connect to. This information has been disseminated countless times over the last week but you clearly want to blame Apple for something so you refuse to understand that <i>the actual location of the phone is not logged, therefore the phone is not being tracked.</i>

        I use an Android phone these days. Guess what? My Android phone does the same thing. If WP7 phones have fast and accurate location services then I would bet they do it, too. The fact is that Apple's cache file happens to be the one that got the attention. nothing more, nothing less.
        use_what_works_4_U
      • Woe is you

        @hoaxoner
        You are propagating two errors of fact, and unless you are a paid troll we expect you to stop. The first error of fact is that this is "tracking information" that is "eventually sent to a server" so as to allow someone to "track" you. That does not happen, so stop claiming that it does.

        Your second error of fact concerns your claim that Apple are doing this "without knowledge." To the extent that people have no knowledge that their phone is capturing location data and sending it -- without any identifying information -- to servers, that is due to people expecting location-based services to work through black magic instead of by capturing location information, and people refusing to read the documentation and then acting all surprised when the phone does exactly what the docs say it does.

        This act of "I'm an idiot and I have a right to be an ignoramus, and other people should be held accountable for my ignorance" is really childish. it's also getting old. Please stop.
        Robert Hahn
      • RE: Apple brass provide more color on Locationgate (updated)

        @hoaxoner This is NOT tracking information but information used to make the AGPS in the iPhone faster. All of that was in the article and in Apple's statement. Also there is NO personally identifiable information in that file, just a collection of accessed towers and wifi spots... but don't let the facts dissuade you from spreading your FUD and lies.

        You ABAers really amuse me, especially you ones who don't even bother to get educated about the issues you so gleefully harp on. What scares me is that you people actually vote...
        athynz
  • Misdirections

    "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."<br><br>They're not CROWD sourced when they're on the phone, they're specific to a phone.<br>They're not anonymous when sent, every file sent is sent with info on the phone it came from.<br><br>Thus it may be they aggregate those into anonymous crowd sourced files, but I seriously doubt it.<br><br>It *IS* personal data, it is identifiable to the person, people DO care.<br><br>Now, it is *not* the cached tower data, and saying it is a sub sample of that is also misleading. It is timestamp sampling of the resulting location data.<br><br>Right now, I want to see the French privacy laws (criminal law no less) invoked so the handset makers remember they are not special here.

    Oh and saying the calculation is done on the phone is a misdirection if you help yourself to a sample of that data.
    guihombre
    • CRZP

      @guihombre There still is no logical explanation for the need for this data. Anyone who can access this data (Apple basically admits they do collect the data...crowdsource so they can see my road trip from Malaysia to Singapore down to an approximate time that I crossed the border. Talkbackers..Do not make yourself look like an innocent by telling me there is no harm. I would say there is NO NEED for this to be recorded period...so why?
      Bradish1
      • RE: Apple brass provide more color on Locationgate (updated)

        @Bradish@... You have not been following this then - the information is used for A-GPS assistance and response times. IF the information was not stored on the unit then it would take a lot longer than a few seconds to triangulate your location. The data is nothing more than cell towers and wifi spots you accessed. If you don't want this information recorded then shut off location services.
        athynz
      • Storm in a teacup

        @Bradish@...
        It's the price people pay for wanting prompt location services. All phones with similar location services, like Android phones or RIM, do much the same, collect and maintain databases of celltowers and accesspoints, so that the user has their location in a second rather than minutes. If you have an old GPS unit, you know how slow it can be to lock on a satellite and get a fix. That's what the "GoogleGate" (to use the same overtired meme) was about, the Google vans doing more than just taking Streetview pictures of streets and houses, with whatever privacy concerns that comes with, but mapping all the WiFi accesspoints. Whether you believe it was 'accidental' they stored all the private data sent on those networks is a moot point, they collect and store permanent databases of people's Wifi networks. Android collects similar data of mobile towers and Wifi access points. You'd be naive to think they didn't use it for targeted advertising purposes. Theirs is kept for a week, rather than having a size limit like Apple's currenty does. The researchers who started this debate specifically stated no personal data is sent to Apple or any 3rd party and that it is stored in a secure part of the system in a sandbox, while Apple says anonymous data of the towers and access points is shared among users. Nothing I've read or the maps I've seen posted contradict this. If I were to get a smartphone, and I'm quite content with a 'dumb' phone, I would not be deterred by this in getting an iPhone.
        Even so, it is right to argue turning off location services should turn off the collection of this data, and only kept for a relatively short period of time. At least Apple has committed to remedy that, even if it did take this uproar to make them act on an issue that has been pointed out by researchers in the past. I'm not sure if the backups issue has been pointed out before though.
        msandersen