iPhone tracking revealed: Apple gets a free pass, but if it had been Google...

iPhone tracking revealed: Apple gets a free pass, but if it had been Google...

Summary: The reaction about Apple tracking iPhone user locations via a hidden file is calm, compared to the outraged that would have followed had the violation been Google's.

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Hold on for just a moment here. I want to make sure I understand this correctly. Apple, it appears, has been populating this hidden little database file in iPhones and iPads that tracks not just where the device is, but more importantly, where it's been. And now that Apple has been outed, no one seems to be too freaked out about it. Really?

Hypocrites.

Let's flip things a bit and pretend it had been Google that was secretly storing a file that tracked your Android device's every move. Oh, there would cries of foul streaming across the Internet. Governments would be holding emergency meetings. Blog readers would be screaming "I told you so" across comments sections everywhere.

Instead, I've read nothing but calm and straight forward reports that are noting, among other things, that Apple doesn't seem to be doing anything with the information - as if that makes it OK. When Google fessed up about collecting (unsecured) WiFi data by its Street View cars, you would have thought by the reaction that the company had broken into homes and ruffled through closets and dressers.

But this was Apple. The Mighty Apple. The maker of the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad. Surely, if Cupertino is collecting information about our whereabouts and storing it in secrecy, it must be doing it for a good reason, right? Oooh. Maybe there's a new iCar coming and Apple wants to be able to pre-set your commute. Whatever the reason, Apple will certainly use it to give us a product we never knew we couldn't live without.

Putting the sarcasm aside, it's just seems funny to me that there would be a free pass for Apple this way. In a post this morning, Larry Dignan was exactly right about why this was a yawner of a development. Increasingly, connected consumers are giving up information about their whereabouts - so why should it matter one way or another if I "check-in" on Foursquare or if Apple (or Google, for that matter) tracks that location for me (or themselves)?

Ah. This is about control. About opting-in for tracking services. If I tell my Android phone to find an ATM near my location, then I'm opting-in for location tracking. If I tell my Android phone to highlight my location by checking-in on Facebook, then I'm giving my permission again. But If I just happen to be driving along the freeway and pull off to put some gas in my car, does my iPhone really need to make note of that place - without my permission?

Personally, I don't care. I "check-in" from time to time and share plenty of personal information on my Facebook page. But I'm also not screaming about my own personal privacy being invaded. This post, for example, isn't about privacy. It's about hypocrisy.

When it comes to online privacy, here's something to remember: If you're going to be all up-in-arms about any violations of it, then quit sharing all of your personal information across social networks and get just as mad when someone other than Google - even if it's the mighty Apple - does something that seems to intrude on your personal privacy.

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Topics: Google, Apple, Hardware, iPhone, Mobility, Smartphones

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88 comments
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  • Yes, what if it had been Google

    Maybe some of the Apple and MS fan boys who always attack Google on loss of privacy and "spying on you" grounds can show a bit of courage and integrity and explain this one to the rest of us.<br><br>How about it? You know who you are.
    Economister
    • RE: iPhone tracking revealed: Apple gets a free pass, but if it had been Google...

      @Economister
      Don't be too fast to blame MS for everything, Here it is for you, http://gizmodo.com/#!5793925/your-iphone-is-secretly-tracking-everywhere-youve-been
      Ram U
      • RE: iPhone tracking revealed: Apple gets a free pass, but if it had been Google...

        @Rama.NET ready to give android a try now?
        slickjim
      • Apple does ***not*** have GPS-time information,so of course it is free pass

        <b>The information is stored on the device and there is no transfer to Apple</b>, according to people who found this issue.

        And, anyway, Apple does not live off selling your private information to whatever crook that pays $1 for a click on a contextual advertisement/banner -- contrary to Google.

        And, anyway, carriers track and store for themselves GPS-times data for like half year and more -- but it is not interesting to Sam since there is no way to bash Apple and praise Google at the same time:
        http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/26/business/media/26privacy.html?_r=2
        DDERSSS
      • RE: iPhone tracking revealed: Apple gets a free pass, but if it had been Google...

        @Peter Perry
        I am actually using 3 android devices (Atrix 4G, EVO 4G, Sprint Samsung Galaxy Tab). I know what I am talking about. ABM people including Economister always try to blame Microsoft or pull Microsoft into everything that is not even a micro millimeter close to Microsoft.
        Ram U
      • If Pandora is anything to go by, Apple wont have a free ride.

        Didn't Pandora do something similar and now has a legal issues? Wouldn't surprise me if Apple followed a similar path.

        So lets just get the popcorn and see the show!

        Android can be rooted and if you know enough, this will never happen to you.
        Uralbas
      • RE: iPhone tracking revealed: Apple gets a free pass, but if it had been Google...

        @Rama.NET and your point is? I believe that the <strong><a href="http://www.preciolandia.com/mx/apple-iphone-iphone-4-32-gb-10p5/deno1.html">Iphone 4</a></strong> is the greatest cell phone EVER made. There, I said it. <a href="http://www.preciolandia.com/br/apple-iphone-iphone-3gs-16gb-1m0t/deno1.html">Iphone is the <strong>best selling phone</strong> in Brazil</a>, the second after <strong><a href="http://www.preciolandia.com/ar/blackberry-8520-10xd/deno1.html">the Blackberry Curve 8520</a></strong> in Argentina, and almost reaching second spot in <strong><a href="http://www.preciolandia.com/ve/celulares-blackberry-8sw/deno1.html">Venezuela after Blackberry/</a></strong>. So there you have it!

        <strong><a href="http://www.preciolandia.com/ar/">PrecioLandia</a></strong>
        preciolandia
        • RE: iPhone tracking revealed: Apple gets a free pass, but if it had been Google...

          @preciolandia Let's just hope the <strong><a href="http://www.sudolar.com">Dolar Hoy</a></strong> boys keep it a secret! I don't want anyone knowing about the <strong><a href="http://www.sudolar.com">cotizacion del dolar hoy</a></strong> fad!
          preciolandia
    • Get over it, people trust Apple.

      @Economister I'm the first to admit that trusting [i]any[/i] big company is mistake number one, but the biggest difference between Apple and Google is that Apple makes its money selling you stuff, usually things you really want. Google makes it's money selling other people the chance to sell you stuff, usually crap you don't want.

      As for privacy, until Apple starts parsing my Mobile Me messages and inserting ads based on the keywords in them, we're talking about, uh...Apples and oranges.
      matthew_maurice
      • RE: iPhone tracking revealed: Apple gets a free pass, but if it had been Google...

        @matthew_maurice Bullshit, Google's process is completely automated and location services can be shut off in Android... Apple seems to be gathering the places where you're going and they don't tell you why but curiously there's an app that can read the data from the phone!

        Right, your privacy is invaded by a machine that categorizes advertisements but not at all but a person that can see where you have been without your permission. Apple's move here is much worse than anything Google has done, talk about 1984!
        slickjim
      • I agree

        @matthew_maurice

        I don't trust ANY big company either. To me however, the big difference between Apple and Google is that Google has yet to ask me for a dime for anything I use from Google. Apple seems to try to stick their hand in your pocket every chance they get, and grab a handful if they can. I like my money in MY pocket, not Apple's (or MS's or whomever). If I helped Apple reach their record profits, I would feel like a bit of a sucker frankly.
        Economister
      • Hmmm...

        @matthew_maurice
        A big difference here is that the tracking is built into the operating system. There is no way to opt out of it, or even know that it takes place. Anyone who searches on Google is sending information willingly and can see targeted ads pop up in their search results. It's pretty straight forward.

        iOS on the other hand tracks you all the time, and does so covertly.
        Theli
      • The proof - Apple has a 315.45 Bil Market Cap

        @matthew_maurice
        so that shows how well their products sell, and why this is OK.
        Will Farrell
    • I would slam them too.

      @Economister

      Don't like tracking by anybody. Apple are hypocrites for saying 1984 will not be like 1984. Where is the script to delete this file? I wonder if there will be an app for that. I think they should be ordered to fix it before some thief profiles someone so they can be victims of their next scheme. Maybe a nice Faraday cage when not used.
      osreinstall
    • Stop defending Google

      @Economister

      It's serious no matter who did it and Apple is getting beat up for it.

      FCC and congress are investigating it.
      illegaloperation
      • Thank goodness for our government

        @day2die They would never violate our privacy...oh wait, arent the MI police downloading your cell phone data when they stop you. And of course the NSA taps internet connections and monitors calls..

        Are we really sure this isnt Google's or Microsoft's fault?
        otaddy
    • RE: iPhone tracking revealed: Apple gets a free pass, but if it had been Google...

      @Economister

      What I don't get is you dragging MS into this! From where I stand, MS is in the same shoes as Google! I have seen MS face antitrust investigations and lawsuits for much less than Apple gets away with.
      oscardetoy
    • RE: iPhone tracking revealed: Apple gets a free pass, but if it had been Google...

      @Economister

      (Russian accent) In Soviet Russia, your phone watches YOU!
      dgari
    • RE: iPhone tracking revealed: Apple gets a free pass, but if it had been Google...

      @Economister Totally agree.
      anto31
    • RE: iPhone tracking revealed: Apple gets a free pass, but if it had been Google...

      Private info should be kept private and iphone should protect its users.

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      holly.potman