Apple and Google are facing scrutiny by the Illinois attorney general, amid controversy over their respective location-tracking practices for iOS and Android smartphones.
Apple and Google could find themselves under additional
government pressure to reveal how they collect and store location data, after
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan asked to meet with executives from both
those companies to discuss privacy issues.
"I want to know whether consumers have been informed of what
is being tracked and stored by Apple and Google and whether those tracking and
storage features can be disabled," Madigan wrote in a statement reprinted
April 25 by Bloomberg
Apple already faces similar inquiries from the federal
government, after U.S. Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Sen. Al
fired off letters to Apple CEO Steve Jobs April 21, asking for clarification on
news that the iPhone and 3G-enabled iPad running iOS 4 have been saving
location data to a hidden database file.
"The existence of this information stored in an unencrypted
format raises serious privacy concerns," read Franken's letter. "The
researchers who uncovered this file speculated that it generated location based
on cell phone triangulation technology. If that is indeed the case, the
location available in this file is likely accurate to 50 meters or less."
Researcher Alasdair Allan wrote about iOS 4's supposed
location-sniffing abilities in an April 20 posting on the O'Reilly
. Working with co-researcher Pete Warden, he released an
open-source iPhone Tracker application that can plot that stored location data
on a map.
"The database of your locations is stored on your iPhone as
well as in any of the automatic backups that are made when you sync it with
iTunes," Allan wrote as part of a FAQ about removing the data. "One thing that
will help is choosing encrypted backups, since that will prevent other users or
programs on your machine from viewing the data, but there will still be a copy
on your device."
The location data saved by iOS 4 apparently contains
information gleaned from cell towers and names of WiFi access points, and not
actual GPS data from the tablet or smartphone. In theory, anyone who seizes
both the user's iOS device and its synching PC would have access to the
unlocked database file and roughly a year's worth of consolidated location
suggest that law enforcement
agencies have been using that data for at least the past year.
recent news reports
also suggest that smartphones running Android are
transmitting location data to Google.
Some analysts feel that Apple needs to rectify the
situation-or at least boost its security.
"With this ability to collect comes a duty to consistently
protect," Ian Glazer, a research director at Gartner, wrote in an
April 25 posting on his corporate blog
. "And this is where Apple has fallen
down on the job. No doubt, Apple protects this kind of data in its data
centers. But those protections ought to extend throughout the lifecycle of the
data where they can protect it."
That means protecting data both on the iOS device and the
"Unfortunately, there is no way for the user of the phone to
disable this location data from being generated and stored," Glazer added. "The appropriate thing to do is
provide iPhone customers meaningful choice and enable them to disable the
location of this data."
Jobs himself may have weighed in on the situation. According
to the Apple-centric blog MacRumors
the CEO e-mailed an inquiring iPhone user with a curt: "We don't track anyone.
The info circulating around is false." Apple has yet to officially respond,
although the company has offered explanations for its privacy protections in