Apple Nips iPhone Tracking Controversy in the Bud

by Jeff Wiener on May 5, 2011

It’s readily apparent in today’s mobile market that Apple has created an air of mystique surrounding its products. Its marketing department has done a masterful job at instilling a feeling of unquenchable desire for Apple products in the general public, clearly evidenced by the iPod-like domination we’re currently seeing with the company’s popular iPad.

But last week’s breaking news that Apple’s iOS 4, used in both the iPhone and the iPad, was tracking, storing, and communicating user’s location and usage information threatened to topple Apple’s entire house of cards, a controversy that had the potential to rouse the average Apple fan from his or her marketing induced fever dream.

To quell the controversy, however, Apple has responded quickly and decisively, releasing a patch yesterday for its iOS 4 (4.3.3) that significantly reduces the operating system’s ability to track and store personal information. Sure your iPhone still tracks you…but just not as much.

Now don’t get me wrong, I happen to be a big fan of Apple and its innovative line of products, and while I clearly recognize how adept the company is at marketing, there’s clearly both quality and substance behind the talk, one of the main reasons no Android phone has been able to lure me away from my iPhone.

Further, while I personally thought the amount of information collected by the OS and the method it was collected in seemed unnecessary, it’s never really been a surprise to me to hear that our phones are tracking us. Quite simply, mobile location awareness is a cornerstone of the industry, an indispensable piece of software that allows our phones to give us everything from relevant business information to the location of the nearest hot dog stand.

That being said, I’m glad that Apple didn’t let the issue fester and grow, as things like this are want to do in today’s media, choosing instead to address the issue head on—claiming that the tracking info was for use with an upcoming traffic service app, and that the fact the file saved so much information was, in fact, just a glitch—and moving to solve it as quickly as possible.

In yesterday’s iOS 4.3.3 patch, Apple has announcedthat it has significantly reduced the abilities of this latent tracking feature, reducing the size of the overall cache—it now stores about a week’s worth of information instead of almost a year’s worth—eliminating the automatic iTunes backup feature—meaning the automatic sync to your computer is now gone—and allowing the cache to be deleted entirely when the Location Services option is turned off.

It remains to be seen, however, whether this move on Apple’s part will put a halt to the frivolous lawsuits and the fear-mongering that we’re seeing. The bottom line is, while your iPhone still tracks you, it’s really the feature that puts the ‘smart’ in smartphone, and it the price we all pay for access to location aware mobile applications. So with that said, perhaps we can all curb the privacy paranoia just a tad.

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Rethinking Privacy in a Smartphone World —
August 16, 2012 at 5:37 am

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