This morning, Apple published a detailed Q&A post about the location data that has been found on the company’s iPhone and iPad 3G devices.
The article comes after a wave of criticism and questions about such data, including allegations that Apple is tracking the location of its users.
Apple very firmly denies this, saying:
Apple is not tracking the location of your iPhone. Apple has never done so and has no plans to ever do so.
So, why does the data exist? According to the company:
The iPhone is not logging your location. Rather, it’s maintaining a database of Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers around your current location, some of 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. Calculating a phone’s location using just GPS satellite data can take up to several minutes. iPhone can reduce this time to just a few seconds by using Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data to quickly find GPS satellites, and even triangulate its location using just Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data when GPS is not available (such as indoors or in basements). These calculations are performed live on the iPhone using a crowd-sourced database of Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data that is generated by tens of millions of iPhones sending the geo-tagged locations of nearby Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers in an anonymous and encrypted form to Apple.
The company says the following issues will be addressed with an iOS update to be released in the next few weeks:
- reduces the size of the crowd-sourced Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower database cached on the iPhone,
- ceases backing up this cache, and
- deletes this cache entirely when Location Services is turned off.
Additionally, the cache will also be encrypted on the iPhone via the next “major” iOS release.