Feeds

Apple breaks location-storing silence

Admits underestimating stupidity of its users*

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

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 goes on to explain that the data stored on an iPhone relates to nearby base stations and Wi-Fi hotspots, but not necessarily ones to which the handset has ever connected; rather places the handset might be expected to go in the future.

When not using GPS, a handset relies on the identity of the nearest cell or Wi-Fi hotspot. Neither transmitter will reveal its location but various companies hold databases linking cell ID with location. Those databases were built up by driving along every road in the country, or bought from the mobile network operators. When a device gets a decent GPS fix it can submit the local Wi-Fi and cell data, keeping the database up to date and correcting any errors.

An Android device which wants to know where it is will send the local transmitter (Wi-Fi and cellular) identities to Google, which consults the database and, if there's a match, responds with a rough location. That location might be good enough, or can be used to get a faster GPS fix.

But Apple thought it could improve on that model, by downloading part of the database to the iPhone in preparation for such a request. So the much discussed data on the iPhone is a list of cells and Wi-Fi identities that Apple thinks you might visit, not places you've visited before.

So your location will probably be there, but so will other locations you've not yet visited. Regarding the quantity of data, and the fact that it keeps accumulating even when Location Services are switched off, these are apparently bugs which will be fixed real soon now.

It's hard not to see this new statement from Cupertino as a direct response to the House Energy and Commerce Committee's letter asking for details of tracking undertaken by all the mobile phone platforms, though the publicity surrounding the issue has obviously played its part.

Not that Cupertino isn't keeping track of where you are - it just isn't storing that data. Apple happily admits that its iAd platform uses your location to deliver targeted advertisements, and Apple is stockpiling anonymous data on movements for a future traffic-information project. But other than that the company promises you're not being tracked - at least not by Apple. ®

* There is an old, and well trusted, IT adage that one should never, ever, underestimate the stupidity of the user.

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
Download alert: Nearly ALL top 100 Android, iOS paid apps hacked
Attack of the Clones? Yeah, but much, much scarier – report
Broadband sellers in the UK are UP TO no good, says Which?
Speedy network claims only apply to 10% of customers
Virgin Media struck dumb by NATIONWIDE packet loss balls-up
Turning it off and on again fixes glitch 12 HOURS LATER
Yahoo! blames! MONSTER! email! OUTAGE! on! CUT! CABLE! bungle!
Weekend woe for BT as telco struggles to restore service
Fujitsu CTO: We'll be 3D-printing tech execs in 15 years
Fleshy techie disses network neutrality, helmet-less motorcyclists
Facebook, working on Facebook at Work, works on Facebook. At Work
You don't want your cat or drunk pics at the office
Soz, web devs: Google snatches its Wallet off the table
Killing off web service in 3 months... but app-happy bonkers are fine
prev story

Whitepapers

Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
10 threats to successful enterprise endpoint backup
10 threats to a successful backup including issues with BYOD, slow backups and ineffective security.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
The Heartbleed Bug: how to protect your business with Symantec
What happens when the next Heartbleed (or worse) comes along, and what can you do to weather another chapter in an all-too-familiar string of debilitating attacks?