Apple’s new iOS 4.3.3 Software Update is designed to fix the location-tracking “bug” that caused the company so much recent controversy.
“This update contains changes to the iOS crowd-sourced location database cache,” reads an explanation posted on Apple’s iTunes service. Those changes include a reduction in the size of the cache, a total deletion of the cache whenever Location Services are turned off and stopping the cache from backing up to iTunes. The update applies to iOS 4 devices on both the AT&T and Verizon networks.
Apple’s controversy first erupted after researcher Alasdair Allan wrote about iOS 4’s supposed location-sniffing abilities in an April 20 posting on the O’Reilly Radar blog. Working with co-researcher Pete Warden, he released an open-source iPhone Tracker application that can plot 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.”
Location data saved by iOS 4 apparently included information gleaned from cell towers and the names of WiFi access points, and not actual GPS data from a tablet or smartphone.
In a FAQ posted on its corporate Website, Apple attempted to clarify its position on location-logging.
“The iPhone is not logging your location,” reads one section. “Rather, it’s maintaining a database of WiFi hotspots and cell towers around your current location, some of which may be located more than 100 miles away from your iPhone, to help your iPhone rapidly and accurately calculate its location when requested.”
Apple also insists the iPhone only stores a protected subset of that total crowd-sourced database. “The location data that researchers are seeing on the iPhone is not the past or present location of the iPhone,” adds the FAQ.
In recent days, both Apple and Google have come under government pressure to reveal how they collect and store location data. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan asked to meet with executives from both companies to discuss privacy issues; that followed inquiries from U.S. Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who fired off letters to Apple CEO Steve Jobs asking for greater clarification on news that the iPhone and 3G-enabled iPad running iOS 4 have been saving location data.
Other recent news reports have suggested that smartphones running Android are transmitting location data to Google.