Apple To Fix Geolocation Glitches
Defends practice but will encrypt info, reduce amount, and eliminate backup function
By John Eggerton -- Broadcasting & Cable, 4/27/2011 3:17:35 PM
Apple's changes were signaled in a blog posting and came after reports it was archiving geolocation data for up to a year and that information was unencrypted, which Markey followed up with a letter to Apple founder Steve Jobs expressing his concerns.
Apple said it was tracking wi-fi hot spots and cell towers to provide better location information, was not tracking or logging the location of iPhones, and was using anonymized info that could not identify the source of the data. But it conceded that logging that info for a year was a mistake-- a bug it said it was fixing--and took blame for what it said was "misinformation" that stemmed from its failure " to provide enough information about the issue to date."
Apple also said it was a glitch that kept some iPhones collecting that hot spot and cell tower data after location services had been switched off.
That said, Apple also said Wednesday that within the next few weeks it will issue a software patch to reduce the size of the crowd-sourced Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower database cached on the iPhone," will stop backing up that cache when a phone is synced to a computer, and will delete the cache when the location services are turned off. The cache will also now be encrypted.
Markey praised the moves, but said he still had concerns about the use of geolocation info for targeted advertising and would still be expecting an answer to his letter. In its blog posting, Apple said its iAds uses location info to target ads, say, locating the nearest Target, but said that third-party info sharing is only after a users gives permission for each app and each add that wants to make use of that info.
Markey said that "raises questions about the use of location information for targeted advertising to iPhone users," and promised to follow up with Apple for "clarification."
Markey is co-chair of the bipartisan House privacy caucus and has called on Congress to investigate the location data issue more broadly.
On the other side of the aisle, Senator Al Franken (D-Miss.), chair of a new Judiciary privacy subcommittee, has scheduled a May 10 hearing ("Protecting Mobile Privacy: Your Smart Phones, Tablets, Cell Phones and Your Privacy." ), the subcommittee's first, on mobile broadband privacy issues, prompted in part by the Apple geolocation flap. He too, wrote jobs with some questions he wanted answered.
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