Apple CEO Steve Jobs reportedly responds to iPhone data location issue by writing: "We don’t track anyone."
The declaration is found in a story by online site MacRumors, which based its account on a story told by one of its readers: that he had emailed Jobs about the controversy and Jobs had emailed a reply.
The fact that Apple's iOS both logs and keeps the phone's location, based on triangulating cell tower or Wi-Fi signals, became widely known last week, triggering a fresh debate about privacy issues and, predictably, questions from some in the U.S. Congress.
It was only a matter of time before the incident became dubbed "Locationgate."
MacRumors says that one of its readers, not identified, emailed Jobs (or "Steve" in the email salutation) about the tracking issue. Here's the text of the email and the purported reply from Jobs:
The query: "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."
The reply: "Oh yes they do. We don't track anyone. The info circulating around is false. Sent from my iPhone"
In the linked story, MacRumors doesn't provide any indication as to whether the reply has been authenticated as coming from Jobs.
The purported reply, barely longer than a Japanese haiku, is already being dissected and analyzed. As MacRumors noted, "His vagueness leaves things rather open to interpretation."
One area of interpretation probably concerns the word "track." iOS is busy logging the phone's latitude and longitude, as many as 100 times a day. When the phone syncs with a Mac or Windows running iTunes, that data is also stored on the computer. The raw data is stored in an unencrypted SQLite database file, unless users enable encrypted backups for their iOS device. But so far, no one has shown that Apple does anything with that data, including moving it off the personal devices to its own servers, for example.
iPhone or iPad users can configure the device to prevent their applications from accessing and using the location data. But that doesn't shut off the data logging activity.
John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.
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