Steve Jobs Responds to iPhone Location-Tracking Controversy

There has obviously been a lot of discussion about last week’s disclosure that iOS devices are maintaining an easily-accessible database tracking the movements of users dating back to the introduction of iOS 4 a year ago. The issue has garnered the attention of U.S. elected officials and has played fairly heavily in the mainstream press.

iPhone Tracking, iPhone Privacy: Found out the iPhone tracks your location, so here is the example of iPhone user Steve Chombs Tracking from the end of January 2011 to April 2011. Photo: Steve Chombs/Flickr

Steve Jobs has reportedly issued one of his typically terse email replies regarding the location tracking database that resides unencrypted on all iOS devices, according to MacRumors. In an email exchange that came to light Monday, Jobs (or whoever answers the email) told a concerned user that Apple doesn’t track location info, but its competition, on the other hand, does.

I reached out to Apple to confirm the authenticity of the email, but have yet to hear back. Here’s the full text of the alleged email exchange:

The reader’s email said: “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.”

Jobs’s purported response was: “Oh, yes they do. We don’t track anyone. The info circulating around is false.”

Google actually addressed concerns of location tracking on Friday, with a spokesman for the company admitting that if a user opts-in to using location services (an option which is on by default when setting up an Android device for first use), anyonymized location data is regularly sent to the company in order to help “provide a better mobile experience on Android devices.”

According to a letter from Apple General Counsel Bruce Sewell last year, Apple collects data for similar purposes, but the assertion in the email above that “we don’t track anyone” would appear to contradict that. It’s probably more in reference to the “consolidated.db” file that stores location info locally. There’s nothing to suggest that the info stored in that file is accessible to outside parties, including Apple, so that’s probably what’s being referred in this case.

Apple’s iOS location tracking file has garnered a lot of attention from U.S. and international press and lawmakers since it was put on display by researchers at the Where 2.0 location services conference last week. We reported that it had actually been public knowledge for a while, but it didn’t catch the attention of the media the way it has now. Whether or not it’s being blown out of proportion, Apple will have to address the issue in some manner soon, since it doesn’t look like it’ll go away on its own at this point. [via Mashable and GigaOm]

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