Apple's location tracking response: Five lingering questions

Apple's location tracking response: Five lingering questions

Summary: Apple launched a multipronged response---a Q&A and interviews with Wall Street Journal sites---to fend off the flap over location-tracking. But questions remain.

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Apple on Wednesday launched a multipronged response---a Q&A and interviews with Wall Street Journal sites---to fend off the flap over location-tracking.

Did Apple allay your worries? Judging from the talkbacks and my inbox, the jury is decidedly mixed.

The big questions:

  1. Was this really a bug? Apple CEO Steve Jobs in interviews maintains that the tracking issue is really a bug that will be fixed. In an interview with Ina Fried, Jobs comes off with a "this is technical you don't understand" vibe but there seem to be a lot of folks questioning whether this storing of location data was really a bug. If it is a bug how did Apple not know what was being logged and recorded?
  2. Can the masses really become educated on this issue? Apple has stated that the industry hasn't explained the location tracking issue well. Then it dishes out a Q&A that goes part of the way, but not really. What specifically do we need to be educated about? Don't expect Congressional testimony to be much of a help.
  3. Why 7 days? Apple in its Q&A said that it will hold a subset of crowdsourced tracking data for seven days. Why? Why not hold data for an hour. How about a day? Why hold a week's worth of location data?
  4. What's the disclosure plan? Apple talked a lot about education and technical details, but what about better disclosure? Are application prompts good enough? What is Apple keeping and for what purpose? These concerns go beyond Apple. It's an industry issue. Best idea of the day goes to a reader that suggested a master on/off switch. He said:
  5. Put a button on the device where I can turn off location tracking. If I need local services, I'll turn it on. If not, I'll keep it off. Don't be sneaky and hide things that invade privacy and then obfuscate when I find them.

  6. Do you trust Apple or Google more? Both are planning location based services. Both will have location-based ads. Both want tracking information. What this boils down to is trust. What vendor do you trust with your tracking data---if any. We can expand the question to RIM and Microsoft's Windows Phone 7, but I focused on the two big dogs.

Related:

Topics: CXO, Apple, Operating Systems, Software, Windows

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Talkback

57 comments
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  • RE: Apple's location tracking response: Five lingering questions

    [i]Do you trust Apple or Google more?[/i]

    Trust? Seriously? No large corporation has ever shown that they have my best interests at heart. They're out to make money... Period. I don't "trust" any of them, I'm just stuck with them.
    Badgered
    • Yup, that's about the size of it.

      @Badgered <br><br>They ALL want your money one way or another, directly or indirectly, and as much of it as they can get away with. That is fine; it is what they are supposed to do.<br><br>What I do not understand however, is fan boy attitudes and behaviors. I play the game on MY terms as much as I possibly can. Why on earth would I willingly play their game, be a fan boy to boot and even feel proud about playing into their hands?<br><br>It boggles the mind.
      Economister
      • RE: Apple's location tracking response: Five lingering questions

        @Economister I agree, but not everyone who buys an apple product is a fanboy.
        nickswift498
    • RE: Apple's location tracking response: Five lingering questions

      @Badgered You can trust a company when their interests coincide with yours. So really it comes down to who's interests are closest to mine?

      I actually think this is Apple, and to a lesser extent Microsoft. Both of them want to sell me a gadget, and they make money when I buy their gadget. Apple has the most to gain, the make the whole shooting match, plus they want to sell me cloud services and content to use with that gadget. Google on the other hand want to serve me ads, this doesn't even feel like my own interests.

      So yeah, instinctively I think Apple (and to a lesser extent) Microsoft are more likely to have interests that are reasonably well aligned with my own.
      jeremychappell
      • RE: Apple's location tracking response: Five lingering questions

        @jeremychappell
        You believe that try working for one of them.
        Then think again.....
        :|
        rhonin
    • RE: Apple's location tracking response: Five lingering questions

      @Badgered

      Were stuck with them? I don't buy that. You're only stuck with them if you choose to buy the product and use it. Let's not turn a blind eye to whats at stake. If the public continues to give corporations a sliver of our rights with each" technical breakthrough" it's only a matter of time before they take the entire cake! Our rights come first and foremost!

      The people who bought Apple phones deserve a better explanation minus the lies and notion that we can't handle the TRUTH!
      Rob.sharp
    • RE: Apple's location tracking response: Five lingering questions

      @Badgered Yeah, trust is the wrong word.

      I consider Google to be the lesser evil in this particular issue, because they already have the kind of optionality and warnings that people are demanding of apple. The location tracking stuff is already opt-in and already tells your that this information will be sent to google.
      blakjak.au
  • RE: Apple's location tracking response: Five lingering questions

    Google > Apple. But at the end of the day I disable tracking in whatever way I have to. I only want my location to be determined when I ask it to be.
    Imrhien
    • RE: Apple's location tracking response: Five lingering questions

      @Imrhien <br><br>Google = makes money by selling information on users to advertisers.<br><br>Apple = makes money selling a combination of hardware and software.<br><br>Apple>Google.
      alsobannedfromzdnet
      • RE: Apple's location tracking response: Five lingering questions

        @alsobannedfromzdnet Neither sells info... Google Sells ad services targeted at specific groups but does not hand your information to the other companies and Apple is implementing the same strategy.
        slickjim
      • RE: Apple's location tracking response: Five lingering questions

        @Peter Perry ---- a difference without a distinction or a distinction without a difference.
        sackbut
    • RE: Apple's location tracking response: Five lingering questions

      @Imrhien There is an easy way to disable tracking on the iPhone - Airplane Mode - no communications in or out hence no way to track the iPhone. Although I'm not one to trust any company further than I could throw them I'd trust Apple over Google... but not by much.
      athynz
      • RE: Apple's location tracking response: Five lingering questions

        @athynz Good idea. Please explain how you make calls or access the Internet with Airplane Mode enabled?
        PepperdotNet
      • RE: Apple's location tracking response: Five lingering questions

        @athynz

        Normally you are spot on, but this one time, you are off your game.
        No need to essentially turn off the phone by placing it in airplane mode. Scroll a bit farther down to Settings>General>Location Services and simply turn it off.
        DeusXMachina
      • RE: Apple's location tracking response: Five lingering questions

        @Pepper.dot.Net You can't.

        @DeusXMachina I'm allowed to have off days... LOL

        My suggestion of Airplane Mode was admittedly a bit on the sarcastic side.
        athynz
    • RE: Apple's location tracking response: Five lingering questions

      @Imrhien

      Other reports I am reading say that the display tracking on Android does not fully disable tracking and that some information is still send to Google. If that it is true, then it is highly deceit conduct by Google. You may want to re-think your appraisal of Google>Apple.
      Wakemewhentrollsgone
      • RE: Apple's location tracking response: Five lingering questions

        @ptorning Not according to the lab tests the NY Times paid to have done.
        slickjim
      • RE: Apple's location tracking response: Five lingering questions

        @ptorning

        All of my Android devices, and I do have too many of them, had a widget on the home screen to turn of gps. Guess what it does. The phone still knows my location, but it's based of the tower, similar to how the postal service knows your address. Seriously, how do you get your mail?
        tkejlboom
    • RE: Apple's location tracking response: Five lingering questions

      @Imrhien It isn't tracking data. It is essentially a cache of location data so the unit can find it's location faster when asked to (by the user, here the application has to invoke an OS call that creates the dialog). It works like this, the unit looks at what signals it can see and compares these against the cache, this gives it an approximate location that can make the GPS far faster. If you're using a map application, you'll often see a big circle (you're within this circle) that then shrinks to a far smaller circle as GPS data comes in.

      The large database will be very device specific - essentially you'll have cache history depending on where you've been. But this doesn't show where you've been - you could ping off cell towers a long way away (in places you've never visited).

      So let's look at the questions:

      1) Is it a bug? Seems pretty plausible. Apple don't look at the file (it isn't sent from your phone back to Apple). The iOS is a large code base - and let's face it there have been bugs (*cough* Alarm Clock *cough*). It is possible this cache isn't being cleared as often as Apple intended? Very. Also don't forget Apple didn't see this as a location tracking file (because if it was then it wouldn't be doing anything without being uploaded to Apple - and that wasn't happening).

      2) I have no idea.

      3) Given this is a cache 7 days seems reasonable. If it were a few hours, then when you went to work by the time you went home it would have forgotten all the cache data around where you live - makes the thing pointless (it wouldn't speed up GPS functions). Most of use have weekly travel habits, so it kinda makes sense.

      4) I think it is hard to explain, unless you just call it "GPS acceleration" and explain that might mean location data might be stored on the phone. I think it should stop logging this if you have the GPS disabled...

      5) As Apple rely on me to buy the product for direct revenue, I trust them more. This is a pure, "they have more to lose" calculation.

      I actually think you missed the most important question of all (before you think I'm giving Apple a free pass). Why does iTunes back this up?! This seems foolish, if I have to restore my iPhone/iPad this data will soon be recollected anyway - just means that GPS functions will be a little slower until the "cache is warm". This seems like a bad design decision.
      jeremychappell
      • RE: Apple's location tracking response: Five lingering questions

        @jeremychappell Dude, Apple admitted the file was randomized and sent back to them to improve their location services. They claim the file is anonymous.

        Pete
        slickjim