The brewing brouhaha
over Apple's location cache and its stored data has resulted in a faster-than-usual response from the company itself. Today, Apple stated that a patch due to arrive in the next couple of weeks and released an FAQ to clarify the situation. Several of its points echo our own statements of earlier today.
Apple explains that the iPhone isn't actually logging you--it's:
maintaining a database of Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers around your current location, some of which may be located more
than one hundred miles away from your iPhone, to help your iPhone rapidly and accurately calculate its location when requested Calculating a phone’s location using just GPS satellite data can take up to several minutes. iPhone can reduce this time to just a few seconds by using Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data to quickly find GPS satellites, and even triangulate its location using just Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data when GPS is not available (such as indoors or in basements).
As for why everyone is concerned, Apple asserts that the problem has been blown out of proportion and misunderstood at the same time. Whether or not this is accurate is something of a question, but it's completely in character with the company's approach to media mishaps.
The technology required to make GPS and other real-time technologies function is complex, and "the creators of this new technology (including Apple) have not provided enough education about these issues to date."
Apple states that the amount of data being retained on the iPhone is a bug, and that the device only needs to retain about seven days of data. There's a patch inbound to fix this problem, As for other location data, the device wasn't supposed to be gathering it when location services were disabled.
There's no mention of the fact that the files themselves were badly protected, but we expect the company will address that issue as well. As for the greater issues of privacy and security, we're assured that: Yes, we strongly do. For example, iPhone was the first to ask users to give their permission for each and every app that wanted to use location. Apple will continue to be one of the leaders in strengthening personal information security and privacy."
The patch will:
- reduces the size of the crowd-sourced Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower database cached on the iPhone,
ceases backing up this cache, and
deletes this cache entirely when Location Services is turned off.
If Apple is able to maintain its defense that this is basically an unfortunate software bug, nothing much will come of it. Congress will still have various questions for the company and consumers may take awhile to settle down, but absent any evidence of abuse, the company will likely get off lightly with a fine at most.