Apple downplayed the importance of its location-data practices, in part, blaming a bug. A new report, however, says Google believes the data to be "extremely valuable."
downplayed the importance of the location data being logged by its iPhones and
iPads running iOS 4, but Google, whose Android operating system does the same,
finds the data "extremely valuable."
According to a
May 1 report from The Wall Street Journal
, Steve Lee, a Google
engineer, wrote in a May 2010 email to Google CEO Larry Page, "I cannot
stress enough how important Google's WiFi location database is to our Android
and mobile-product strategy."
The email is
part of a public filing in a lawsuit against Google, reports the Journal, that
underscores the importance of location-related data to the mobile applications
run by ever-climbing numbers of smartphones and tablets. With users'
permission, Google collects information about the WiFi networks surrounding
devices running Google's Chrome Web browser and "versions of some other
browsers," as WiFi is more efficient than GPS signals, the report
experienced a wave of criticism following the April 22 disclosure by two tech
researchers that its devices are not only collecting location data, but collecting
enormous amounts of it-noting data points approximately 100 times a day, they
estimated, since iOS 4's release nearly a year ago-and storing it unencrypted.
Apple posted to its Website April 27 answers to questions it said had recently
been asked. First, it said, "Apple is not tracking the location of your
iPhone." Rather, what it's doing, the company said, is:
a database of WiFi hotspots and cell towers around your current location, some
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.
location data that researchers are seeing on the iPhone is not the past or
present location of the iPhone, but rather the locations of WiFi hotspots and
cell towers surrounding the iPhone's location ... We plan to cease backing up
this cache in a software update coming soon.
It added that
a software bug, which will be repaired in an update, was responsible for
storing quite so much information, when the iPhone really only needs to store
about a week's worth of data.
Journal report, Lee said that Google had "300 million WiFi networks in its
database and could pinpoint a device's location to within about 100 feet."
Lee also told
the Journal that the information Android devices collected was particularly
"crucial," as in early 2010, Google had stopped collecting WiFi
hotspot data from the vehicles it had used to collect street-view images for
secondary purpose of the vehicles was to scan the areas around the vehicles to
build out Google's location database," the report continued, "but
Google disclosed in early 2010 that it inadvertently collected personal data
from unsecured wireless networks."
Apple have both agreed to send representatives to a May 10 hearing on the matter
being organized by
U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.)
hearing will serve as a first step in investigating if federal law protecting
consumer privacy-particularly when it relates to mobile devices like smartphones
and tablets-is keeping pace with advances in technology," Franken said in
additional federal scrutiny, U.S. Reps. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton
(R-Texas) have queried the four largest wireless carriers on the practice of
location tracking and say they plan to continue looking into the matter.
Google's location-gathering practices have already sparked a lawsuit. Two
Michigan residents, claiming their HTC Inspire 4G smartphones have been
tracking them just like "a tracking device for which a court-ordered
warrant would ordinarily be required," are suing Google for $50 in
Apple and Microsoft, has emphasized that all of its location tracking is done
with the consent of its users.