The Network World Annotated Guide to the Apple Q&A on iPhone Location Data

The art of patronization

Apple released on Wednesday a Question-Answer document that re-explained what it explained in July 2010 about its iPhone policies and practices on collecting location data. The document and at least one almost unprecedented media interview granted by Apple CEO Steve Jobs were responding to the discovery that iPhones are storing a lot of location data.

The tone of the document was classic Apple: Olympian, cool, a bit disdainful, and very patronizing. The "questions" are of the self-serving type, on the order of "Why didn't people realize that [insert Company Name here] was acting in their best interests and just trust you?"

And when you read Jobs' interview [an interview! Like on the phone, instead of by purported emails] today with the Wall Street Journal's Ina Fried, who writes the Mobilizer blog, you realize from whence that tone comes. From Fried's preliminary post (a more detailed one will appear later):     Jobs said that the tech industry hasn’t done a good job of educating users on what has been a fairly complicated issue.     “As new technology comes into the society there is a period of adjustment and education,” Jobs said. “We haven’t–as an industry–done a very good job educating people, I think, as to some of the more subtle things going on here. As such, (people) jumped to a lot of wrong conclusions in the last week.”

In that spirit of educating people, here is the "Network World Annotated Guide to the Apple Q&A on iPhone Location Data."

1. Why is Apple tracking the location of my iPhone?

Apple is not tracking the location of your iPhone, [you big silly]. Apple has never done so and has no plans to ever do so. [Like, evah. What's the matter with you?]2. Then why is everyone so concerned about this?[Because it's all very complicated and everyone, except those employed by Apple, is very, very stupid.] Providing mobile users with fast and accurate location information while preserving their security and privacy has raised some very complex technical issues which are hard to communicate in a soundbite. [We at Apple have a policy that forbids the use of soundbites.] Users are confused, partly because the creators of this new technology (including [the really smart people at] Apple) have not provided enough education about these issues to date. [We've been busy making a ton of money with our cool products. So consider yourself now educated.]3. Why is my iPhone logging my location?The iPhone is not logging your location. [How many times do we have to tell you, you twit?] Rather, 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....[So whatever we're doing, which you probably can't understand anyway, is for your own benefit.]Can Apple locate me based on my geo-tagged Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data?No. [How ridiculous.] This data is sent to Apple in an anonymous and encrypted form. Apple cannot identify the source of this data. [Anyway, do you think we care that you're working right now at 492 Old Connecticut Path, Framingham, MA 01701 in a 4th floor cubicle on the northwest side of the building?]Why does my iPhone need so much data in order to assist it in finding my location today?[Look dufus, for the last time:] This data is not the iPhone’s location data—it is a subset (cache) of the [cool and magical] crowd-sourced Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower database which is downloaded from Apple into the iPhone to assist the iPhone in rapidly and accurately calculating location. [Like we already explained!] The reason the iPhone stores so much data is a bug we uncovered and plan to fix shortly (see Software Update section below). [So quit complaining!] We don’t think [as of today] the iPhone needs to store more than seven days of this data.When I turn off Location Services, why does my iPhone sometimes continue updating its Wi-Fi and cell tower data from Apple’s crowd-sourced database?It shouldn’t. This is a bug,[which is a term of art meaning that just like real bugs they just show up out of nowhere for no reason and irritate people and have to be swatted or sprayed, and] which we plan to fix shortly (see Software Update section below). Does Apple currently provide any data collected from iPhones to third parties?[Oh for crying out loud!] We provide anonymous [a-nony-mous] crash logs from users that have opted in [and like good users trust us to do what we want] to third-party developers to help them debug their apps. Our iAds advertising system [which creates the coolest ads in the world for our users, and tons of money for us] can use location as a factor in targeting ads. [And who doesn't want targeted ads?]. Location is not shared with any third party or ad unless the user explicitly approves giving the current location to the current ad (for example, to request the ad locate the Target store nearest them). [Target Brands Inc. is a paid sponsor of this Q&A; Check out the Target iPhone app!]10. Does Apple believe that personal information security and privacy are important?

Yes, we strongly do. [LOL! We had to say that!] 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. [Which is another of those very complex technical issues which are hard to communicate in a soundbite to confused users. The best thing is not to worry your little head about it and trust us. We know what we're doing, and we're right.]

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.