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Apple's location tracking response: Five lingering questions

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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Written by Larry Dignan, Contributing Editor on

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.

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