Apple Blocks iPhone Developers from Using GPS for Targeted Ads

Apple announced that it would prevent third-party iPhone developers using its Core Location framework from designing apps that deliver targeted ads to iPhone users. Normally, the Core Location framework is used to build apps that leverage the user's location, such as ones that locate restaurants or other nearby points of interest. Apple's reported attempt to purchase mobile display specialist AdMob in 2009 suggests that the company could be exploring ways to port advertising on its mobile devices, although that rumored maneuver could have also been part of the escalating battle between Apple and Google over the smartphone space.

Apple announced on Feb. 3 that it will prevent third-party iPhone developers from leveraging the popular smartphone's GPS to display mobile advertising. In a news item on its developer site, Apple announced that it has placed particular feature restrictions on its Core Location framework, which allows developers to build applications that geo-locate users and deliver information to them there.
The framework can be used for apps that pinpoint nearest restaurants and other points of interest, for example, or to deliver local weather. But Apple also wants to prevent that technology from being used to create location-based mobile advertising.
"If you build your application with features based on a user's location, make sure these features provide beneficial information," reads the posting on Apple's developer site. "If your app uses location-based information primarily to enable mobile advertisers to deliver targeted ads based on a user's location, your app will be returned to you by the App Store Review Team for modification before it can be posted to the App Store."
More information about Core Location, including some LocateMe sample code and the CLLocationManager Class Reference, can be found here.
Apple's move may possibly be the result of its own designs on mobile advertising, with reports from 2009 indicating that the company was interested in purchasing mobile display ad specialist AdMob. Google eventually purchased AdMob for $750 million, a move that could potentially give the search engine giant a strategically useful view into the App Store.
"If Google is taking on Apple for mobile OS market share, they just scored a huge competitive advantage," opined Ian Schafer, CEO of marketing agency Deep Focus, after the AdMob deal was announced. "Google will know more details than ever about how people are using iPhone apps, how they are engaging with advertising within those apps, and users' loyalty to those apps."
Apple has retaliated with some moves of its own, including December's $85 million purchase of digital music provider Lala Media, which apparently Google had its eye on. In any case, Apple's supposed attempt to purchase the leading exchange for mobile display ads suggests that the company is perhaps looking for new ways to leverage its position within the smartphone market, as well as gain new revenue streams from previously unexplored areas.
As the mobile application market has rapidly expanded over the past few years, other challenges facing both their creators and third-party developers have multiplied, particularly related to privacy and security. In a Feb. 3 presentation at Black Hat DC, software engineer Nicolas Seriot suggested that some security concerns exist with Apple's App Store.
"In late 2009, I was involved in discussions with the Swiss private banking industry regarding the confidentiality of iPhone personal data," Seriot told eWEEK. "Bankers wanted to know how safe their information [stores] were, which ones are exactly at risk and which ones are not. In brief, I showed that an application downloaded from the App Store to a standard iPhone could technically harvest a significant quantity of personal data."
Apple has begun pulling suspect apps from the App Store; on Dec. 7, the company took down more than 1,000 applications from Molinker, a third-party developer, after accusations that the company had posted fake reviews. With research firm IDC predicting that the App Store will expand to 300,000 apps by year's end, the pressure will likely increase on Apple to weed out those developers flooding the store with useless or fraudulent applications; previously, Apple generally pulled apps in response to public outcry, as with its April 2009 decision to withdraw a "Baby Shaker" app that had parents in an uproar about the ability to "shake" a virtual infant using an iPhone.
The complexity of apps-related issues could likely increase after the release of Apple's iPad, a tablet PC, sometime in the next two months. As part of that device's Jan. 27 unveiling, the company announced an iPhone SDK 2.3 beta that would allow developers to create tablet-centric programs; in addition, some 140,000 apps will be available for the iPad through the App Store upon launch.