Are you happy with Apple's response to iOS tracking?

Are you happy with Apple's response to iOS tracking?

Summary: Apple has finally responded to the iOS tracking 'scandal.' Is it adequate?

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Apple has finally responded to the iOS tracking 'scandal.'

Here's the deal:

iOS isn't logging user's locations. Instead it's 'maintaining a database of Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers around your current location' that is then used by your iPhone to 'rapidly and accurately calculate its location when requested.' Makes sense. this is what A-GPS, or Augmented GPS is all about. I'd guessed that this was the primary purpose of the database early on, but the revelation that the data is downloaded by the iPhone or iPad is a revelation. A GPS receiver can take minutes to figure out your locations, the iPhone and iPad does not. This is how that trick is performed.

So where does this downloaded data come from? Apple describes it as 'crowd-sourced.' In other words, it is based on '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.'

So why does the iPhone still maintain this cache of data when iOS 'Location Services' are switched off? According to Apple, this is a bug and shouldn't be happening (again, I said early on that this would ultimately be, or at least be blamed, on a bug).

Apple also revealed that it is collecting anonymous traffic data with the intent of creating a crowd-sourced traffic database.

So, what's Apple going to do about this? Three things:

  • Reduce the size of the Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower database cached in the iPhone or iPad
  • Stop backing up this cache when iTunes syncs an iOS device with a Mac or PC
  • Delete this cache when 'Location Services' is switched off

Personally, I'm satisfied with the explanation offered by Apple and the changes that will be carried out. I don't think that there was any 'conspiracy' but it was important to get this sorted out. Now it is (or will be when Apple released an updated iOS).

[UPDATE: So, how seriously did Apple take this issue? Very seriously. Seriously enough to get CEO Steve Jobs, who is currently on medical leave of absence, to parrot out on the phone to journalists the same material that's already covered in the press release.

Two words - Damage limitation!]

What say you, iPhone and iPad owning readers?

Topics: Operating Systems, Apple, Mobile OS

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25 comments
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  • RE: Are you happy with Apple's response to iOS tracking?

    I really appreciate the way Apple has responded to the situation. They have goofed up, but an excellent response. Highly professional and they come out as pro-consumers. As a developer, I can understand how and why they would cache the location information. The GPS chips are still a pain in a**. It takes ages [in terms of silicon] to get the location information from it. The developer who developed for Apple was kinda lazy and did not add any cache clearing routine! As for as tracking is concerned, everybody tracks [you too Zdnet]. Given all the evil companies, as a consumer, I would trust Apple to be the least evil of all.
    browser.
    • RE: Are you happy with Apple's response to iOS tracking?

      @browser. Okay so this has been found on the 3G, 3Gs and 4 yet we're told it was a bug... Not likely, they got caught with their pants down!
      slickjim
      • RE: Are you happy with Apple's response to iOS tracking?

        @Peter Perry

        Hey trolly the troll!!!

        It is on the 3G, the 3Gs and the 4 because they all run/have run the exact same OS.

        Gawd you are such a tool.
        Geuseppi
    • RE: Are you happy with Apple's response to iOS tracking?

      @browser. <br>another apologist who blames developers. Decisions will not be made by developers, FYI, even if they leave something, testing will catch it. If nothing has caught that means, the management was sleeping when this happened.
      Ram U
      • RE: Are you happy with Apple's response to iOS tracking?

        @Rama.NET +1

        They got caught, lied, and are now fixing what they screwed up.
        Bates_
      • RE: Are you happy with Apple's response to iOS tracking?

        @Bates_
        "They got caught, lied"
        Well the bug got caught, which is probably what they wanted as they must have known the story would get out eventually and the faster they fix it, the better. Not sure where the lie is.
        anono
      • RE: Are you happy with Apple's response to iOS tracking?

        @Rama.NET

        I disagree. As a developer myself, I can tell you that my superiors don't have a clue how I do what I do. They just tell me how they want things to work, and if it meets their objectives in the end, they're satisfied (as long as I'm not doing anything illegal do achieve the goals). It sounds to me like Apple's managers wanted the crowdsourcing to speed up lookups -- a great goal -- and they didn't fully understand the mechanics of how that would be implemented. And folks doing the testing might not have had a clue that the consolidated.db file was anything "sensitive".

        I wouldn't say there's any "blame" being placed on the developers. They probably weren't told to make the file any smaller, to prevent it from being sync'd or even to flush it when location services are "off". If anything, I'd blame the Project Managers who are supposed to ride herd over all the requirements specs -- they missed something. But, frankly, it doesn't seem like a big mistake to make ... just a bad one, when put in the public eye.

        Still, I'm satisfied with Apple's response. They've explained why they collected the info (to improve service), admitted fault and accepted blame, but more importantly they've mapped out how it'll be fixed. That's all I ever hope for from anyone who wrongs me -- be it a friend or a company. Own up to the mistake and make good on it. That seems fair to me.
        jscott69
      • &quot;Will get caught by testing&quot;

        @Rama.NET
        You've never had a job in QA of a complex product before, I can tell. I come from QA and tech support, and now I work in Business Analysis (dealing with product vision, inception, requirements, dev, and qa throughout the life cycle). For this to be an unnoticed bug is extremely plausible. It's bad, sure, but not every bug gets caught and the existence of a cache which meets it's size criteria is easy to not recognize as a bug.

        I'm not making an excuse. This is a bug and it should (by definition) have already been found and fixed. I live in the real world, though and 5h1t happens.
        use_what_works_4_U
    • RE: Are you happy with Apple's response to iOS tracking?

      @browser.
      And everyone was worried about Google tracking you! At least with Android, you're given the option to send it or not.
      tallbruva
  • If this were true I would expect that the local cache would have

    all the crowd sourced info "near by", not just where the users been. I'd also expect each individuals colected data to be annonomously sent to the crowd source collection service and then deleted locally. Id further expect complete transparency including opt-in, not opt-out. And the cache of crowd sourced data wouldnt be deleted when location services is turned off, just collection. the crowd sourced data would still be used for networking. Wifi gets turned on and off all the time. no one would want to fetch the cache every time. smells like pr spin, hence the need for jobs to deliver it...
    Johnny Vegas
  • RE: Are you happy with Apple's response to iOS tracking?

    Spinmobile at work.
    Droid.Incredible
  • Apple does it well

    Damage control that is.

    Whatever the reason it's good that it is being corrected. Outside of that iPhone users will be iPhone users. I doubt this will have any serious impact on sales. Maybe cheating spouses will think twice!
    LiquidLearner
  • RE: Are you happy with Apple's response to iOS tracking?

    Blaming it on a bug is pret-ty lame. I'm pleased at the response but highly suspicious of Apple. My next phone will NOT be an Apple product.
    Imrhien
    • RE: Are you happy with Apple's response to iOS tracking?

      @Imrhien

      Unless of course it was a bug...
      Geuseppi
    • RE: Are you happy with Apple's response to iOS tracking?

      @Imrhien

      Great, get a Google spyphone!
      jorjitop
  • &quot; a gps receiver can take minutes&quot;...

    ...ya, if you last turned it off in Cleveland, and then turned it on in Boston. A-GPS is "Almost GPS".
    Feldwebel Wolfenstool
  • RE: Are you happy with Apple's response to iOS tracking?

    So why does nobody talk about Google. Google has always tracked locations on phones. They also read and store your emails. They combine that with profiles based your searches. Add to that your contact list, your calendar, your Docs, your telephone calls (Voice), your TV watching, your web visits (Google-analytics, et al), and more. So, should we really worry about Apple accidentally doing some anonymous location tracking?
    jorjitop
    • RE: Are you happy with Apple's response to iOS tracking?

      @jorjitop Because google tells you what they are doing. when you set up an android phone, it asks if you want to let google collect anonymous wifi and network location data to improve searches and such. you can choose not to let it collect the data. google may collect a lot of data, but they tell you and you can turn it off.
      GenericApp
      • RE: Are you happy with Apple's response to iOS tracking?

        @GenericApp

        Actually they don't. Did they tell you that they were building a profile of your from your searches? But, you are right to some extent. As consumers, the obliviousness to the Google spy machine is incredible. You know they are spying on your Gmail and adding that to your profile. Same with all their other apps and services. It is not any individual feature that make them dangerous. It is the accumulation of data that they have when all is put together that should be terrifying.

        By the way, do you use NoScript with Firefox to block the Google scripts so prevalent on web pages, including this one. All part of the undisclosed Google spy network.
        jorjitop
  • RE: Are you happy with Apple's response to iOS tracking?

    Fine and its realy usefull.
    if Apple had just noticed it was always on it would have been a feature . lol.

    lot of fuss over nothing.
    So if someone tracks that i have been down the beach to the pub and any where else .. who cares.. what am I hiding ?

    In this isane world of blogs and tweets . we all know to well where every one is and what they are dooing hey tell us!!

    :0
    Mark Codling