iOS location tracking draws government inquiries, Jobs responds

A report from last week revealing that iOS 4 devices regularly record their positions to hidden files has sparked a wave of inquiries from government agencies and representatives. According to the New York Times, Senator Al Franken of Minnesota and Representative Ed Markey of Massachusetts have contacted Apple separately, each asking for an explanation as to why the location data was being collected and stored, and what it was being used for. The same report indicates that various agencies in Germany, Italy, and France are planning investigations and/or inquiries into the matter, while Politico reports that the U.S. Federal Communications Commission is also looking into it. Separately, Bloomberg reports that South Korea’s Korea Communications Commission has also asked Apple how often the location data is collected and saved, whether users have a choice over whether it is saved or deleted, and whether the information is being stored on the company’s servers.

The Wall Street Journal has tested the feature on an iPhone with its Location Services turned off, and discovered that the location data is still recorded despite the setting, although the coordinates recorded were not from the exact locations the phone traveled, which is consistent with prior results. Finally, Mac Rumors reports that a reader emailed Apple CEO Steve Jobs about the issue, saying, “Could you please explain the necessity of the passive location-tracking tool embedded in my iPhone? It’s kind of unnerving knowing that my exact location is being recorded at all times. Maybe you could shed some light on this for me before I switch to a Droid. They don’t track me.” Jobs responded in his typically terse style, saying, “Oh yes they do. We don’t track anyone. The info circulating around is false.” While it is obvious that iOS 4 devices are indeed tracking and recording users’ locations, it’s possible Jobs was referring to the fact that the data does not appear to be collected by Apple, thus supporting Jobs’ “we don’t track anyone” claim.

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