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back to article Apple breaks location-storing silence

Apple has clarified that it does not store location data on handsets, and that it does, and that it's going to stop soon... only it isn't... and it's nothing to worry about anyway. Apple takes full responsibility for the fuss: the company apparently failed to educate us properly about what it was doing. Apple's statement then …

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Joke

Oh you promise?

Well alright then, just dont do it again

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Do what again?

Gosh, a mobile GPS enabled device remembering where it's been? My Garmin satnav has been doing that and keeping track logs of everywhere I've been for years. I'm not sure what it will do when it runs out of memory, I assume it will delete old ones rather than crash, but who knows.

Remember there's a big difference between storing something locally, on the device, and uploading it to a server. Compare that to Google, where if you ever type in something like "sex shops near here" into Google Maps you can be sure that through the use of cookies and data mining they will keep a precise record of what you did, where and when and to whom, for all of eternity!!

(Apple's explanation, if you bother to read it, makes perfect sense, that it's a cache of nearby cell tower and wifi hotspot information so that the device can rapidly triangulate your position before it gets a GPS fix. If they really were trying to record your actual position, why don't they store the GPS coordinates?)

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Absolutely

This just sounds that it is Apple's particular implementation of "Assisted GPS" (A-GPS) or even "hybrid positioning system" and is one of the advertised features of the iphone.

FUSS meet NOTHING.

I applaud Apple for responding in the positive to this particular 'storm in a teacup' .. and more believable that they own up to crowdsourcing anonymous 'traffic' data for a better mapping experience; something which has been long rumoured they were working on so its interesting to hear some real confirmation pity its years away.

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FAIL

At least Garmin doesn't get locations accurately

I have a couple of Garmins as well as GPS receivers from other manufacturers and one thing for sure is that notwithstanding what the Garmin claimed I didn't travel along a road 15 kilometres out at sea for a distance of 800+ kilometres.

The other units had it right - the road was actually on land. So your privacy using a Garmin is maintained!

As for Apples wet explanation, it makes no sense to display an approximate location as the incorporated GPS will produce a better accuracy. Using cell locations as a determinant is extremely risky as there are so many variables. Apple as much admits data is used by Third Parties so it is passed on.

And why keep so much data? Google's data limits are much more reasonable.

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Approximate location

You do understand what ASSISTED-GPS means, right? Also the fact that some devices such as iPods may have WiFi but no GPS? Or that your GPS enabled device might be indoors or otherwise not have a clear view of the sky?

What the iPhone does is triangulate your position using cell tower IDs and any WiFi base stations within range (just by detecting the SSIDs that are broadcast, it doesn't need to connect to the WiFi network) to give an approximate position very quickly (within seconds), then update it with your precise position a bit later once it gets an accurate GPS fix.

After reading up on A-GPS, read up on what a cache is, and consider what happens if there's a bug and old entries aren't cleared appropriately.

(If you don't believe the "bug" explanation, try "poorly thought through caching strategy" instead. One could easily imagine a junior programmer thinking "hey, people often go the same places again, the data is tiny when you've got 16GB to play with, so we'll just always keep the last 10,000 entries and won't bother to expire them based on the time last used" without thinking through possible privacy implications.)

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Thumb Down

"in preparation for such a request"

The iPhone does exactly the same thing Android does, the cache of locations is in ADDITION:

"But Apple thought it could improve on that model, by downloading part of the database to the iPhone in preparation for such a request."

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Boffin

Apple patent application for location-storing

Its hard for them to say they didn't want to spy when they filed for a Patent on this location-storing! (filed on September 3, 2009).

If you are interested?, you may want to update your story to include this Apple patent application link for "Location Histories for Location Aware Devices"

http://appft1.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO1&Sect2=HITOFF&d=PG01&p=1&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsrchnum.html&r=1&f=G&l=50&s1=%2220110051665%22.PGNR.&OS=DN/20110051665&RS=DN/20110051665

For example, from the Patent: "Upon request by a user or application, the network information can be translated to estimated position coordinates (e.g., latitude, longitude, altitude) of the location aware device for display on a map view or for other purposes."

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Numpty

How did you make the link between them applying for a patent, and it being implemented in an actual product?

Conclusions:JumpTo

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Patent

I was going to patent my "Jump To Conclusions Mat". The guy that created the Pet Rock made millions!

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FAIL

Hmmmmm,

Given the fact that it took almost a week to come up with this response, I am somewhat sceptical of their explanation. Given the history of Apple - I simply don't believe it!

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Black Helicopters

Post your own message

I'v got some tin foil for sale if your running out.

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Anonymous Coward

Paranoid much?

Right, because they couldn't have been doing anything like checking to make sure they new exactly what was happening with the data. The last thing they would need at this point is giving the same press release the same day, and then finding out some legacy or unrelated piece of the operating system was sending copies of the cache back to Apple.

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Flame

swap you the foil for a cup?

so you can drink the Kool-Aid in style.

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WTF?

Please, oh please...

... do not let them get away with the old "Oh that was a bug we'll fix that now!" excuse...

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@lglethal

Don't worry, they said the tracking fix will be bundled in with the scheduled alarm fix.

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Joke

How dare you..

suggest that cuddly Apple have had any nefarious intent. They are perfect and should be allowed to do anything they want.

Not like that nasty Micro$oft or Google!

Please Sir Steve Jobs, take my wife - kids too.......

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Coat

Curious

2:1 thumbs up to thumbs down for the two chaps above. I guess fanbois don't have a sense of humour, which is odd given they bought the damn things in the first place!

Mine's the fire proof one with the anti stab kevlar panel in the back.

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Grenade

Good explanation

As it explains nicely why consolidated.db (or whatever the file was called) held information about cells that people had been no where near.

Still not sure what the fuss is about though. So your phone knows where you've been - I've wanted that functionality on my satnav for years.

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Big Brother

Missing the point

"So your phone knows where you've been - I've wanted that functionality on my satnav for years"

The point is phone owners would like the option of not having the information on their every movements stored. In a high density location - like a city - the storing of nearby towers would be good enough to show where you'd been, it's only when you move out into lower mast density areas that the info gets more vague.

I'd rather it said on the label "even though you've turned off location information this little Orwellian f*cker will track your every movement and store it unencrypted on the device, maybe on your backup too and also send it to us" and would much rather be able to switch it off - you know, given that it is mine. We're all aware that cell providers can track your movements but there's a handy little court procedure that needs to be gone through to obtain the information. It seems it's not quite so cut and dried with contents of the phone though as indicated in earlier articles.

If you don't give a toss about your privacy that's all well and good but some of us would prefer to retain the odd right or two as you don't tend to get them back once handed over.

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The wonderful world of modern communications

You pay for the phone, you pay for the service and on top of that they use your bandwidth to update their cell tower location database so they can target adverts to you. What is wrong with iPhone users? It would be interesting for someone to carry one of these iPhones about without making or receiving any calls and see what sort of bandwidth is being used and also to see if it still does the same while roaming.

At the very least Apple should make this opt-in only.

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Anonymous Coward

Yes, opt-in only.

Just like Google do for Android and MS do for WP7.

Oh no, wait, it turns out they don't.

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Unhappy

@"What is wrong with iPhone users"

@Chris W: "they use your bandwidth to update their cell tower location database so they can target adverts to you"

I totally agree. Apple are abusing their users once again for Apple's own gain and yet their users still adamantly refuse (beyond all reason and logic) to see any wrong in any of it.

On the one hand Apple fans are deeply preferentially blinkered to fail to see and refuse to see any wrong in anything Apple does. Yet on the other hand, Apple fans often vehemently show they feel so obliged to follow their pack and vote down anyone who dares to try to speak the truth against Apple, which Apple fans so often twistedly & defensively interpret as anyone speaking ill of their beloved brand name. WTF is it with them.

I wouldn't mind so much, but they also so often have to do it with such a swaggering pretentious attitude that they have a shiny Apple product and we don't, so they look down on us poor folk who don't understand what Apple are trying to do.

Its hard to hold a rational conversation with people like this, when they show so clearly they are so profoundly biased in their thinking. I'm sure they won't like what I've just said, but frankly I've got to the point where I don't give a fuck any more and anyway I'm not a follower of any pack and frankly if they had any spine, they wouldn't follow packs so vehemently either. (I'm getting increasingly convinced there's something going on in their psychological behaviour of some of the core Apple fans which is driving behind why they are defying all reason. For example they are too irrationally & sycophantically biased, plus Apple fans are getting too much out of their repeated condescension swaggering pretentious ohhh shiny attitude towards others. I think all too often, they enjoy that condescension).

I would say it also won't surprise me at all Chris W, if you and other posters on here get a few more Apple fans voting you down for speaking the truth, (I see you've got 1 already) just as I fully expect I will also suffer the same vote down fan fate for listing Apples spying patent (in my post above, I've so far scored 3 votes down already). But then effectively I'm an atheist speaking out against the followers of the Church of Jobs, which is exactly how Apple cult fans are behaving, but they don't want to hear it. They are intentionally defying logic, its not they can't see logic, they are closing their minds to it, refusing to see it. That same swaggering pretentious condescension is found driving gullible followers along in religious cults, where the gullible followers believe these lying swaggering pretentious drivers of the cults. But then some people like to exploit packs of people, to make themselves seen as central, important and high profile “trendy” in these packs).

I won't bother replying to amanfromearth above as well, as I've include my reply in this post. What gets me is that I forlornly just tried to show Apples spying plans in their own words! ... So stupid of me, I thought Apple fans would see Apple are spying, when shown Apple's own words and their fans get to see Apples own intentions to plan to integrate spying into Apple products. But oh no stupid me, just as the amanfromearth poster shows, they can't see it because frankly they have their Apple(tm) blinkers firmly in place. So much for trying to reason with them.

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<title>

You mean there are iPhone users who make and receive phone calls?

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@MinionZero

Nice rant :)

+1 vote from me

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Unhappy

Clever spies

Telling the world what they are going to do, cleverly encrypted in a public patent application. Oh the deviousness.

As pointed out, any GPS style or other device dealing with location is going to store some information. It seems that even the discoverers of this nefarious plot do not accuse Apple of snaffling the data onto their own network willy nilly.

Now, why are the comments about other systems, such as the big A, so muted, when they are very open that their main income source is advertising and so one can expect that that is a primary use of data that their mobiles collect.

Look, just throw away your mobile, or at least use Pay-as-you-go cards bought in some remote country to hide what you can of your identity. Stay indoors, those cameras are everywhere and, if you have to go out, avoid going in a car - road cameras are good at faces and number plates and no public transport. Actually, avoid towns, too many cameras. No credit or debit cards, nor any form of banking.

You did shred and burn all paper you ever used? Nothing in the dustbin, mind.

Think there is a web site where you can reinforce all of your conspiracy theories, must be lots on Apple there. Oh dear, disable cookies and use someone else's computer.

No more contributing to the Register: your details are out there now. No doubt evil Apple has installed a sniffer in their offices, on their databases ....

Help, must be in a loony bin. Note to self: stop reading comments on the Register.

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Anonymous Coward

RE: Yes, opt-in only.

I guess it's OK then.

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Troll

@MinionZero

I'll bite...

"I totally agree. Apple are abusing their users once again for Apple's own gain and yet their users still adamantly refuse (beyond all reason and logic) to see any wrong in any of it." So are Google and Microsoft. For all we know so are HP/Palm, Samsung, Nokia et al. Your Point? Oh...

it might just be the longest and whiniest troll in history. It this a picture of our commentard; http://blog.getsatisfaction.com/2011/04/27/infographic-the-hard-knock-life-of-an-internet-troll/?view=socialstudies ?

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@AC 00:14

Pay more attention. Turning off Location Services has no effect. The phone continues to accumulate location data in these files even when Location Services is set to OFF.

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FAIL

Oh noes!

Someone has down voted me! Does that mean I need to write a hyperbolic polemic about how it's impossible to to talk rationally to Apple haters because they refuse to acknowledge the "Truth" according to me? MinionZero certainly thinks so...

Wazzock.

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Silver badge

Apple products are meant for fondling NOT calls ...

besides fondling inanimate objects is more acceptable than playing pocket billiards.

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Badgers

@"What is wrong with iPhone users"

That may take too long to answer.

How about "What is right with iPhone users"

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FAIL

Bollocks

If they are not tracking you and the data sent to them is anonymous how do they know what data to send back in the cached format to the correct iPhone?

It clearly isnt anonymous at all.

As to it being a "bug" that they store so much, the only "bug" was getting caught doing it!

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Paris Hilton

Have tinfoil, real cheep

Your phone sends a message saying "I need a subset at x'y", the server says "here you go". The only thing Apple need to know is if the request came from an iPhone. They dont need to waste resourses tracking you for some secret master plan to take over the world. Because there is no secret master plan, no hidden volcanic lair, no sharks with laser.

*Paris because she likes thick ones.

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Paris Hilton

And the targettted ads?

Try to look at the broader picture and you will learn the difference between anonymous data and data that may not have your name on it but it still identifiable to you individualy.

Thats why your phone has an imei number amongst other identifiers which along with your itunes account and location data can and does tell Apple the following:

Where you go, how much you spend and what other IoS devices you own, and with that "anonymous" data they can decide what adverts to serve, where to open Apple stores etc etc etc

Those of us who work with geo analytic data know the value of this data, as do the people at Cupertino and you can rest assured they will be using the data.

Even Paris knows the value of data!

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@ Bollocks

Just think about it before you post.

Why are they looking for the correct phone to send to?

They're not you twit. The phone asks first.

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Megaphone

Re: how do they know what data to send back...

My understanding is that : they have to know where you are approximately first. They also have to send the data back to you.

The alternative is that they beam out their entire database to every iPhone, which receives it and filters out what it needs. This sounds a bit far fetched.

So they have to know *you*, practically.

Whether they keep this data or not is subject for great debate and may not ultimately be known.

But consider that this day and age storage space is cheap, and if google are doing similar bits of snooping 'somewhat' behind your back, can you trust them?

TL;DR: Apple probably tracks iPhones - whether or not they keep the data, is another question... (I would imagine they would). What they do with it is another....

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Paris Hilton

And you call me a twit? AC 22:37

The data cannot be anonymous if they can reply to the phone!

If it was truly anonymous it would not allow any form of reply as you would not know who to reply to with the cached data would you?

If it was truly anonymous all they would get is cell tower data and nothing more, the fact they can send data back to the phone that sent the data in shows it is not anonymous.

There is a world of difference between "some data" and "some data from phone x", perhaps you need to learn that difference.

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Re: And you call me a twit? AC 22:37

In all fairness you are a twit.

They are not targetting individual phones rather all phones at a certain location. If you are on a street with a Burger King and you are using an aplication that uses the iAd platform you might get an ad for Burger King, as simple as that. It's location based advertising not user preference based, as far as advertising goes they are not interested in who you are but where you are.

They are not following you about waiting for you to pass Burger King to send you a 1$ off eCoupon.

However, if you redeem that coupon and from that feedback they build up a profile of your weakness for reconstituted meat byproducts then you would have reason to be concerned. Heaven forbid Apple would do such a thing, but if they did you'd only be half a twit.

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This is still a problem

Apple have failed to adequately identify the threat for the user. By caching nearby hotspots, they have in effect ensured there is a very generalized cache of tracking data built into your phone. Even if some of the cached hotspots are put to a hundred miles away, it still shows in effect which countries and states you have visited. Apple's statement is good in so far as the explanation shows the intent was non-cynical. But it is still a flawed implementation and they should have been more careful in their design and identified the potential problems more clearly. My analysis is that this data caching is OK to do provided it is done securely and the cache is regularly wiped or refreshed. Apple have been negligent in how it has been implemented and haven't given due consideration to the fact this feature could have consequences for those whose phones fall into the hands of a party that has bad intentions. So it is appropriate they properly encrypt this data and implement all the measures they identified in their public statement.

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FAIL

They DO track you

I agree. I've extracted this info from my iPhone, made a kmz file loaded it into Google Earth and it clearly shows where I live and where I've visited by clusters of points at these locations.

There are individual points miles from where I know I went - but the clusters show where I've been. Also since it contains dates you could get a pretty good idea of where I've been and also patterns - such as where I work, where I am during the day vs at night.

So, basically, no matter what Apple say this is a database tracking you.

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Black Helicopters

So, basically, no matter what Apple say

You could have just typed that.

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Anonymous Coward

Track this...

"So, basically, no matter what Apple say this is a database tracking you."

That may or may not be true, but that data is already collected and stored by your service provider the same as they do for *every* phone that connects to their network.

Partly it's so they can bill you and partly it's so they can track the quality of the network; being able to use triangulation to work out approximately where you are is a bonus feature that allows them to sell targeted advertising through SMS/MMS and can also be requested by appropriate court orders for all sorts of legal reasons.

The only thing that's unique to the iPhone is that it stores this data for too long on the phone and doesn't send it to Apple (annoyingly the researchers concur that there's no evidence that the data is ever sent to Apple). Android records this data for up to three days, but sends it to Google, WP7 doesn't store the data on the phone but still sends it to MS.

What I can't understand is why people are posting about "Apple" tracking the phones when it's just the phone itself doing the tracking, but no-one is asking why MS and Google are tracking them.

In reality, the only way to prevent yourself being tracked by your mobile phone is to not have one in the first place.

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I'm sure they are...

It won't be enough for Apple to know that x number of units sold to y number of users via z number of retailers/parners/distributors. They'll want to know how and how often w users use their phone, shake it, calculate with it, surf with it, talk on it, text with it, and more. More could include marketable and salable information:

About the user:

-- does the user use publc transit or drive or carpool?

-- is the user a homeowner?

-- is the user single/married/a parent?

-- is the phone lost when it enters secure locations?

-- where are those locations and are they open to Apple products?

-- what non-Apple products does the user sync with/route through?

-- how many of our phones cluster on transit vehicles?

-- where are our greatest daily/hourly first and repeat proximities in AM and PM commutes and social venues?

And so on....

If Apple says they are not deeply or not at all tracking, they MUST be lying. Otherwise, they are undertapping a massive gold mine of statistics and facts that might lead them to their next Apple-eyesed hot product.

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Stop

@SteIMG

"I agree. I've extracted this info from my iPhone, made a kmz file loaded it into Google Earth and it clearly shows where I live and where I've visited by clusters of points at these locations."

Specifically? I call shenanigans. I too have extracted the data from my iPhone and, yes, I can identify where I live and where I work - if I have the information already. There's a lot of clustered data in there and to pinpoint "clearly" where you live is a massive exaggeration.

There's enough to get upset about (such as why it needs to keep this data for so long), but let's not assume this is how Apple tracks you (if they do). If they were tracking you, they'd be doing it on a server, not stuck on the client.

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Joke

Re: They DO track you

What you go and load the iPhone db into Google Earth, for? Did you want to give Google a little more data to target advertising at you for when you upgrade later this year to an Android phone?

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Jobs Horns

Yes, they track you,

How else would they know which database points you need. And this 'prediction' shows where you have been in the past. I suspect the excuse about cell towers far away being an 'incorrect guess is a a red herring - its to cover the possibility of picking up distant towers which can happen thirty miles away.

Also having a more accurate position info for GPS than cell tower location isn't necessary for A-GPS.

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Stop

re: Yes, they track you

"How else would they know which database points you need. And this 'prediction' shows where you have been in the past"

Please just think this through. EVERY location request request via AGPS requires a vague location check via Apple or some other provider. Cell towers do not broadcast their position (they're capable of it, but don't in the UK) - your phone has no idea where it is unless it does a cold GPS lock (takes a while, or about a minute at any rate). The better it can narrow down its predicted position, the quicker it can obtain and accurate GPS read.

From the server side, they can't consolidate requests - your IP changes to frequently to do that. From the client side (consolidated.db) there is no method by which Apple receives that file (as accepted by the original researchers).

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FAIL

@AC 22:30

"Also having a more accurate position info for GPS than cell tower location isn't necessary for A-GPS."

Apparently you didn't bother reading apple's statement. If GPS can't get a fix (like, for example, when you're indoors) then the iPhone uses other wireless data to give as close a fix as possible. It also allows for a rapid first approximation narrowing in as satellites are locked.

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@Annihilator re. Cell tower positions.

Funny. 15 years ago, I remember my Nokia 2110 (1st generation GPS?) phone reporting the post code of the nearest tower in the UK. I think that the info was part of the transmitted stream from the cell tower.

Not that useful, but then phones were not that 'smart' back then, and could barely handle text messages.

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