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Apple Sued Over iPad and iPhone Location Tracking Issue

 
 
 
 
 
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Data extracted from an iPhone location file.

An article published by the Guardian about the fact that both iPad 3G and iPhone keep track of their user’s whereabouts sparked an outcry amongst iOS users. After the issue went all the way to Washington, with a slew of senators and Congressmen demanding answers from Apple, civil lawsuits are now pouring in.

According to a Bloomberg report, a couple of iPhone customers in Florida are already suing Apple over the location tracking ‘feature’ introduced in iOS 4.

While the location tracking file was discovered some time ago, it didn’t get much coverage until the Guardian published a piece about it last week. For some unknown reason, GPS-enabled iOS devices such as 3G iPad 1/2 and iPhone save the location of their owner on a regular basis, in a file stored on the device, and saved by iTunes each time the device is plugged into a Mac or a PC.

Apple has been surprisingly mute about the issue, a fact that fuels current lawsuits: “Apple hasn’t commented on the matter since the April 20 report was released. […] We take issue specifically with the notion that Apple is now basically tracking people everywhere they go,” according to Aaron Mayer, an attorney for the plaintiffs.

Interestingly enough, the issue may be nothing more than an iOS bug: according to John Gruber over at Daring’s Fireball, the tracking file was never meant to store as much data as it actually does, and a bug is preventing iOS from purging older location information.

My little-birdie-informed understanding is that [the file] acts as a cache for location data, and that historical data should be getting culled but isn’t, either due to a bug or, more likely, an oversight, i.e. someone wrote the code to cache location data but never wrote code to cull non-recent entries from the cache, so that a database that’s meant to serve as a cache of your recent location data is instead a persistent log of your location history.

Steve Jobs himself commented on the issue, via one of his typically short, straight to the point email, sent to an iPhone user who asked him to explain why Apple was apparently tracking users:

Q: Steve,
Could you please explain the necessity of the passive location-tracking tool embedded in my iPhone? It’s kind of unnerving knowing that my exact location is being recorded at all times. Maybe you could shed some light on this for me before I switch to a Droid. They don’t track me.

A: Oh yes they do. We don’t track anyone. The info circulating around is false.
Sent from my iPhone

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  • Apple is already working on an update for iPhones which is expected to release in the coming weeks that will address the location issues. The iOS update will reduce the amount of WiFi hotspots and cell towers recorded to the phone and will delete the location cache completely when location services are disabled.

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