How do you solve a privacy breach like smartphone location tracking? If you’re a Member of Congress, you very publicly tweet, send a letter or issue a statement. If you’re an iPad or iPhone user, you quietly email Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs. Guess who got a response?
A reader of Macrumors claims to have e-mailed Jobs directly with concerns over the revelation last week by two British researchers that Apple’s popular iPhone and iPad mobile devices are tracking users’ location data and storing it for months, leaving it very unprotected and very public.
Jobs’s response, according to MacRumors, was to call the “info circulating” false.
The reader wrote:
“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.”
To which Jobs responded:
“Oh yes they do. We don’t track anyone. The info circulating around is false.”
Jobs’s fervent response, and denial, comes as Apple has yet to issue an official statement on the issue, or reply to those Congressional inquiries.
But, as Macrumors notes, Jobs’s short emaily reply “provides little detail or information to support his claims, and his vagueness leaves things rather open to interpretation.”
Other experts who parsed Jobs’s statement weighed in that it was, for the most part, at least partially correct.
“Apple isn’t tracking users, because the data collected is anonymous. But the issue with the local file is that it’s out in the open for anyone with access to the user’s PC — say, an employer or suspicious spouse. If the computer falls into the wrong hands, so does the data.
The other part of Jobs’ statement (“Oh yes they do”) seems inaccurate. As Google explained to the Wall Street Journal, Android users’ whereabouts are tied to a unique ID, but it’s anonymous and not associated with any other personal information. Wiping the phone resets the ID.”
News of Jobs’s reply email came on the same day the Wall Street Journal reported the ‘single toggle’ to turn off location services on the iPhone does not, in fact, work. The paper and an independent security researcher found that Apple’s file continues to collect and store location data even with that Location Services setting turned off.
No word yet from Jobs, or Apple, on that discovery.