The spying iPhone is no accident. A recent Apple patent application reveals that the location-tracking dossiers accumulated in iPhones are to be used in apps from Apple and any number of other companies.
Ronald Huang, an Apple senior engineering manager, filed patent application 12/553,554 last month, “Location histories for location aware devices”, which explains how Apple can amass and use location data in the very ways Apple critics fear. The patent application, for example, envisions a searchable map plotting the owner’s location history; tying location to financial transactions; transmitting location data over the internet to remote servers; and many other uses.
Apple has been enmeshed in controversy since computer researchers disclosed last month that the iPhone stores indefinitely data about its whereabouts gleaned from mobile phone towers and Wi-Fi access points. The data collection started with the release of iOS 4 last June. The iPhone puts the location data in an easily read file called “consolidated.db”, which is apparently never pruned for old entries.
Privacy advocates, politicians and the press have loudly raised concerns about how this extensive history of personal movements is going to be used. Senator Al Franken and Representative Ed Markey, for example, both wrote letters to Apple demanding to know why the location dossiers are being created, and today the Illinois attorney general followed suit. The information is also collected even if the iPhone’s “location services” preference is set to “off,” the Wall Street Journal reported this morning.
Apple hasn’t officially commented on why iPhones are compiling such a long history of information on their owners movements. But it does appear to be trying to quell the controversy. Apple CEO Steve Jobs recently sent an email to a concerned customer, writing, “We don’t track anyone. The info circulating around is false.” Apple has also done nothing to dispute a widely read report that a software bug is the likely reason so much data has been compiled on iPhones. And someone or something prompted the Journal to write an article earlier this month saying that Google’s competing Android phones engage in similar behaviour.
Apple also says several time that the collected data will be transmitted to remote servers, including in section 0018, which discusses a “remote reference database”, and section 0035, which discusses sharing location data with other wireless devices “or with a remote service (e.g. navigation services)”. Apple has said before that such data is only shared with express user consent, although it clearly caught customers by surprise with the compilation of the iPhone location database.
Clearly, Apple sees big potential in exploiting the iPhone’s ability to record our every move. Now it just needs to explain to its users how far this practice will be taken, and how much consent it will seek before building up movement dossiers and before using them in its own software. Its track record on disclosure thus far is not encouraging.
[Photos of Jobs via Getty Images]
Republished from Gawker