Steve Jobs on iOS location tracking: We don’t track anyone, but Droid does

“There has obviously been a lot of discussion about last week’s disclosure that iOS devices are maintaining an easily-accessible database tracking the movements of users dating back to the introduction of iOS 4 a year ago,” Eric Slivka reports for MacRumors. “The issue has garnered the attention of U.S. elected officials and has played fairly heavily in the mainstream press.”

MacDailyNews Note: Please see related articles:
House Democrat questions legality of Apple’s iPhone, iPad location tracking – April 21, 2011
U.S. Senator Al Franken demands answers from Apple’s Steve Jobs over iPhone tracking – April 21, 2011

Slivka reports, “One MacRumors reader emailed Apple CEO Steve Jobs asking for clarification on the issue while hinting about a switch to Android if adequate explanations are not forthcoming. Jobs reportedly responded, turning the tables by claiming both that Apple does not track users and that Android does while referring to the information about iOS shared in the media as ‘false.'”

Q: Steve,

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.

A: Oh yes they do. We don’t track anyone. The info circulating around is false.

Sent from my iPhone

Read more in the full article here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Readers “Fred Mertz,” “Manny S.,” and “Lynn W.” for the heads up.]

Related articles:
Apple iPhone collects location info even when location services are turned off by user – April 25, 2011
Android phones regularly transmit location data to Google ‘at least several times an hour’ – April 22, 2011
House Democrat questions legality of Apple’s iPhone, iPad location tracking – April 21, 2011
Apple’s iOS location tracking file caused by a bit of unfinished code? – April 21, 2011
U.S. Senator Al Franken demands answers from Apple’s Steve Jobs over iPhone tracking – April 21, 2011
Expert: iPhone tracking story is nothing new and Apple is not collecting the data – April 21, 2011
‘untrackerd’ jailbreak utility blocks iOS from storing recorded iPhone location data – April 21, 2011
Apple’s iPhone tracks everywhere you go; stores the info in secret file on the device – April 20, 2011

70 Comments

  1. Expect a more complete answer from Steve in a open letter as this story continues to unfold. I think in this case it’s warranted. Not necessarily to Al Franken, but to Apple’s customers. They want to know and deserve to know the truth. BTW, I believe Steve at his word on this one.

    1. The log file that iOS maintains contains no phone/user ID, so when iOS sends it to Apple and the data is processed, there is no way to track the device per se from that information. Obviously, Jobs insists that no phone/user ID is sent along with the log to Apple, so that kind of information is not available/not collected either.

    2. They don’t deserve an open letter. The information has already been revealed quite a while ago what this feature is all about. If they’re too stupid to do some research then they shouldn’t be calling themselves journalists. Since we’re not journalists here and never claim to be I direct your attention to the link that MDN put at the bottom of this story: http://wp.me/p19WFc-dYR

      1. Apple does need to respond to its customers and answer the allegations, because if Apple is not collecting user location data, or if it is, people need some more information. Now that the allegations are out there, Apple needs to handle the situation by communicating with its customers rather than seemingly hiding behind its infamous wall.

        1. If these so called journalists would do a little research and link to previous articles discussing this issue when Apple detailed the reasons for this last summer, then there would’nt be a need for Apple to further discuss this.

          It’s the media blowing it out of proportion, they should be responsible for making sure their readers have all the facts that have already been publicly disclosed by Apple rather than trying to make this into some hit-hitting big brother story.

        2. As you can see in the article I linked, this information is public. Apple is not hiding it in anyway and it has been published. It is these so called journalists who are making a story where there is none. Apple’s customers would not be worried about this if journalists had not irresponsibly blown this out of proportion. It’s these journalists that need to do retractions and apologize to the public for misleading them. Thats what responsible journalists used to do back when they had some sense of credibility.

    3. Amen.

      I think Apple could trouble itself for a couple of hours to pen an explanation. I imagine it’s something mundane that’s been blown far out of proportion. What I don’t like is that I’m known as an “Apple guy” in my community and I’ve had about 10 people ask me about it the past few days and I really don’t know exactly what to tell them.

    4. Agreed, smacsteve. Apple/Steve will issue either an open letter (e.g., DRM) or a press conference (e.g., Antennagate) to resolve the misinformation with real data and careful reasoning. I, for one, am willing to wait for Apple to assemble a thorough message. Why is everyone so easily manipulated into knee jerk reactions? Is today really that much different from last month?

  2. IGod, oops I meant SJ’s statement seems to be pretty clear to me or am I missing something?
    If people are so concerned about privacy, get off Twitter, Myspace,etc. Cancel cell phone, Internet
    etc. then nobody will know where you are unless you tell them.

  3. HAH! succinct and to the point. Jobs is awesome. He doesn’t do their work for them either. He doesn’t give them links or some lengthy technical diatribe. He knows his position is safe so he doesn’t have to go in depth to defend it. The info is out there and easily accessible showing how this data gathering (not transmitting) is not what media think or claim it is.
    These idiots only know how to destroy, they don’t know how to create like Apple.

  4. Jobs is going to stuff this one down every assbaby crapdiaper adolescent that has whined on every board about a couple of liars proclaiming Apple is doing something wrong. Spread those a** cheeks.

  5. I don’t believe SJ sent that. The flaw is there, the effect is important. Apple is not tracking any one, it takes willful action to collect and agrigate data to track some one. So at best there is half truth.

    I have looked at the trackable data from my phone. From it, I can not find my house, oh it’s close but the precision is so low that it’s hardly tracking. Maybe one mile to a half off.

  6. When you sign up to the Mobile Me “Find My iPad/iPhone/iPod touch” please take the time to go through the clearly defined conditions you accept with that service. It is pretty obvious that Apple’s iOS must be able garner the location of your device in order to be able to tell you where to find it on your home computer.

    Moreover, mobile phones have often been used by terrorists to detonate explosive devices. One terrorist I heard of, fled the country after setting off his bomb in Britain. The authorities tracked him across Europe and down into Italy, where he was eventually located and arrested. You see, all mobile phones regularly call home to report the current position associated with the SIM card.

    What’s the problem, eh? 😆

  7. Still, the fact that there exists a file on my iPhone that contains my movements for months or years, thar could potetionally fall into the hands of anyone, government, criminals, hackers, IS TROUBLING and deserves a compete explanation

    PLUS an option to disable it.

    1. I think you overestimate the value of your geo-location data. I mean really, who cares where you’ve been? How does that kind of information enable the criminal element? Or anyone for that matter?

      It all comes down to personal responsibility. Telling iTunes to encrypt your backups is a good start. Locking down your phone, is another. More importantly, stop allowing third-party apps to track your whereabouts and turn off Location Services in the System Preferences.

      Your iPhone is a computer collecting information about you at an alarming rate. Given that, you should be taking steps to secure that information like you would any other item in your life that has the potential to turn your life upside down.

      But remember, if you turn off Location Services, and lose your iPhone, you can’t lock it down or wipe it remotely using Mobile Me.

      The idea of disabling Location Services on my iPhone is absurd. I like it when Google Maps tells me where to find products and services based on my current location. I like the fact that that information is stored on my iDevice and can be recalled by Google Maps.

      But let’s be clear. Google Maps is restricted to its own data (sandboxed) and isn’t allowed to read the entire contents of the consolidated.db file, which is the accumulated recording of every location my phone has been. THAT is the Apple way; protecting my data from third-parties.

      It’s those who Jailbreak their phones who have to worry, because that consolidate.db file is open to every third-party who wants access to it.

        1. Silverhawk: It’s even easier than that: on your main iPhone page in iTunes, under options, you’ll find a checkbox to encrypt the backup. With “sync only checked songs,” “manually manage music…” etc. Probably a good idea for whatever reason.

    2. Even more troubling there is an app on my phone thats very easily accessible it’s even in my iPhones dock. This app contains the names, addresses, e-mails and phone numbers of everyone I know. It even contains my own name, address, e-mail and phone number!?! It’s called the address book. Thats why I keep my phone pass code locked. If anyone gets a hold of your phone or computer they can find all kinds of thinks about you. Very general (within a mile or so) location data is the least of your worries.

  8. I don’t care to comment on rumours and alleged emails until they are authenticated. My comment or gripe is about the previous few comments posted here. I have been a Apple user since 1987. My first purchased computer was a Mac, and so is the latest one. I’m a proud Apple user and a fan. It is because, I don’t see Apple as a computer/electronics gadget company so much as I see it as a cause that I have found easy to champion. In that, I expect better from Apple, as well from the fans; blind apologists are for the Google, MS et al followers of the world. They don’t lend well to the noble causes. We can and should expect more and better.

    Apple is wrong to store something as personal and private as constant location data on the phone and then on the Mac. The rationale behind it is almost irrelevant, irrespective of its intended use. It is a reckless thing to do. Mentioning that in the EULA does not justify this action.

    A lot of people tend to misunderstand privacy that if it doesn’t apply to them personally it is a non-issue. Try to think outside of your cave. I’m not a criminal, I don’t think I have anything to hide. But that doesn’t mean I’m willing to submit my personal information without my consent to a personal gadget that I have paid to enjoy. At the least, I would expect an absolutely transparent way of managing that logged data. Having 3rd party Apps to clear that data is not an acceptable solution. That’s Google’s way. The only way Apple can redeem itself, is by admitting the mistake (it certainly smells like one), and allowing for an option to delete/manage that data from the settings.

    Finally, I know that admitting mistake might expose them to class action lawsuits. However, making up BS excuses could be worse. We deserve better, Apple. Do the right thing.

    1. I still believe the privacy argument makes absolutely no sense when considered properly in perspective. Our cellphones contain mountains of extremely private and intimate information; some that we put in deliberately, some that made its way as we surf the web (browser history, etc), some that got there because we accepted a user agreement when we signed up for some Yelp. FourScore, Facebook or whatever other online service that we use. Unlike all such information, access to which is very often beyond our control (as much of it is stored on servers in California), this particular file is ALWAYS in our hands and NOBODY can actually touch it unless WE allow them to do it. Unless you unlock your door and let the person into your home, they can’t rummage through your drawers for your personal documents. This file is no different than that.

      The mountains of very detailed, intimate and private data that is out there, beyond our direct control, makes this small file that contains rather incomplete and imprecise location data (with no information to connect it to an actual device or person) just pale in comparison.

    2. While I agree with your argument regarding how privacy is relevant regardless of how tracking can be used to find a criminal, the reality is that we don’t know the facts of why this data is stored and what it is used for. That has been speculation by those who found the files.

      This is why Apple needs to come out and explain why the data is stored, how it is used and what is sent to Apple and why. It’s a very simple solution to diffuse this time bomb.

      Plus, Apple could very appropriately spin the heat off onto Google and Android, by asking why is Google receiving your unique phone ID several times an hour (if that’s true) and what is “do no evil” Google doing with that data?

    3. I think you just contradicted yourself.

      You are commenting on rumors and alleged emails. In fact, as a professed long-time Apple user you’re woefully ignorant about Apple’s integrity and past record of performance and your concern is misplaced. Apple has been a champion of consumer rights and you know it.

      Honestly, since when has stored location data become so personal and private that you feel Apple is jeopardizing your personal safety and well being?

      Try to think outside of your cave.

      You’re a smug and arrogant Apple fan who would be well served to do a little reading up on the topic of Apple’s Location Services, before you start making wild accusations about Apple and third-party developers.

      I don’t know which is more pathetic, your asking Apple to redeem themselves by admitting to a mistake that never was or, Apple’s detractors who are trying to build up the momentum of a Location Services non-story, similar to Antennagate.

      If you take as good a care of your iDevice as you do your wallet, then you have nothing to be concerned about.

      1. I didn’t expect to add anymore to this thread. Your comment has helped me change my mind.

        “I think you just contradicted yourself. You are commenting on rumors and alleged emails.”

        No, I did not. Read again please what I had written. I hope you can detect the difference between posting in a thread, and responding to its content. I had deliberately bypassed SJ’s alleged email concerns, and had commented on, whom I view are the blind Apple apologists.

        “In fact, as a professed long-time Apple user you’re woefully ignorant about Apple’s integrity and past record of performance and your concern is misplaced.”

        I didn’t once mention/pass a judgement on Apple’s previous ‘record of performance’ nor how that trajectory may carry over to the case at hand in my earlier comment. My concern was with this latest issue only and had limited my comment regarding that to the present. Remarkable of you to gauge my woeful level in Apple related knowledge from that, and certify me as ignorant.

        “Honestly, since when has stored location data become so personal and private that you feel Apple is jeopardizing your personal safety and well being?”

        Again, I may not be personally concerned with MY personal data, but some of us can concern ourselves with issues that may ‘conceivably’ affect others negatively.

        “”Try to think outside of your cave.”
        “You’re a smug and arrogant Apple fan who would be well served to do a little reading up on the topic of Apple’s Location Services, before you start making wild accusations about Apple and third-party developers.”

        In my misguided state I had intended to invoke Plato’s cave analogy (broadening our narrower views to enlightenment etc.), certainly not to ‘start making wild accusations’.
        Apple has a file that stores some location data, I would rather they didn’t. Not sure what wild accusations I was levelling against Apple and their 3rd parties, but I’ll take your word for knowing my intentions better.

        And for the rest of your comment, you had me at, “I don’t know…”
        Have a nice day.

        1. “I don’t care to comment on rumours and alleged emails until they are authenticated….

          ….Apple is wrong to store something as personal and private as constant location data on the phone and then on the Mac.”

          Glad I could help…

          1. How silly desperate you appear to be to have to reach for straws in order to defend your contradiction theory and then still missing it? I was going to give you a pass, but that concluding remark that came across as snooty, “[g]lad I could help…” encouraged me enough to expose once more the hole in your desperate attempt at making a point.

            When I said, “….Apple is wrong to store something as personal and private as constant location data on the phone and then on the Mac,” I wasn’t speculating on any rumours there. These are based on published reports (recently as well as previously) that no one is arguing against, including Apple. Apple has already acknowledged this, covered this in their EULA and seems have publicly responded to previous inquiries on the matter.

            What Apple does (whether or not they collect it at any point) with this data is right now in the domains of speculation and rumours. I didn’t go that route, instead I simply had stated my displeasure for having this data on a file like this in the first place.

            It’s my opinion, and I’m entitled to it. Matter of fact, people better knowledgeable like Mr. Gruber had already opined that maybe it is an oversight by the Apple code monkeys. I don’t know, but Apple certainly can have their own opinion on this; I’m waiting to hear their version before either agreeing with them or raising further objections.

            Meanwhile, to me you are coming across as a hyper poster who resorts to emotions and flawed logic in your responses to differing opinions. I can only speculate now that you are indeed clueless in this, and it wasn’t a deliberate attempt on your behalf to hide behind a desperate fallacy hoping that it might go unnoticed.

          1. 1Password makes a product that allows me to carry around all my passwords on the iPhone. I suppose that’s reckless too? In your hands, perhaps it is.

            Anyone who is irresponsible probably should take issue with location data.

    4. @krquet

      First, I agree with you at this point in time. One important factor I have become very aware of while reading articles on this forum is that one needs to take many of the comments with a very large dose of salt. You don’t have to look far to see that many people on this forum own stock in AAPL. Any negative comments in the media affect Apple like alcohol on a cut.

      1. Well macassarus, can you give us one example where Apple has violated consumer trust in the last thirty-some years?

        I own AAPL but that hasn’t clouded my judgement. In fact, any negative comments about Apple in the media or in these forums should be confronted with the facts.

        1. G4Dualie, only the iPhone antenna and the stock purchase issue. But, it doesn’t matter. A bit of open communication is in order here. Depending on your stake in Apple, I say that there might be a bit of stress when negative AAPL news hits the news. So, be a little more honest. I’m not asking for much here. Just honest, open communication about an issue that could have been squashed outright a week ago.

            1. Douche…Sorry, I meant Dude, you asked for the “last thirty some years”. Read your own post. I really donot think the past is an issue in this discussion. But you asked. And, yes, Antennagate was a breach of trust. So, were the stock options. Sure did not conjur up any additional trust for Apple. Oh, and a disclaimer, I am a long-time Apple and AAPL owner. I took a temp hit for both of these.

              Talk about stockholders with blinders … Your wallet is showing. You would allow your hard-fought freedoms to be breeched for a few bucks. tsck tsck…

      2. Thank you, macassarus.
        😮 )
        A disclaimer might be in order, I am a proud and happy AAPL owner since 1999 and again in 2000. Haven’t bought or sold since.

    1. That’s right. But as I stated earlier, Apple has designed the process to preclude third-party developers from accessing the consolidated.db file in its entirety.

      In other words, “tom-tom” can only look up their own location data, and not that of other third-parties, like Google Maps, or Harkins Theaters. Each app is confined to their own location services data, however Apple consolidates the location data in a file that is backed up by iTunes.

      When you restore your iPhone’s data from backup, the consolidated.db file is parsed out by iOS and each third-party is given access to their own data.

      No one, except Apple and you, has access to that consolidated.db file and even then, there is nothing in that file that could be used to identify you personally.

      In fact, the only need of this file, outside of your personal usage, is a) Apple uses the information to enhance the iPhone experience, and b) it could be used forensically as evidence, but only if the file can be traced back to the phone in question.

      Can Apple facilitate that process? Probably. That consolidated.db file contains a code of some sort that could be used to identify the phone from which it came but, until I hear Apple is harvesting this information for purposes other than what is allowed by law, I’m not going to get swept away by other people’s ignorance.

  9. Having written, calibrated and tested extensively the GPS for a location based app, I can tell you that no one is going to be able to do a 1 to 1 correlation between this data and your location, because it fluctuates so greatly in accuracy. The fallback GPS, the non-super accurate reading can put you in Chelsea or Wall Street when you are sitting in SoHo. Turn on the wifi and you can be in a whole different neighborhood and sometimes in Jersey City or Brooklyn. Looking at the map, that file is def. not full of the super-accurate GPS readings, plus it is not transmitted to Apple.

    Now when you use any location based app that requires a user login – like YELP, 4Square, Find my ATM, etc. you are transmitting your location tied to your user profile to a third party.

  10. I just wonder when the WSJ and others are going to do the same in depth studies on Android phones and Google’s checking the phone’s location several times an hour.

    1. As with Antennagate, probably never. The MS media likes to think these problems are unique to Apple.

      I swear to god, ignorance about such things makes it a target-rich environment for short traders who want to build up the momentum to cause Apple’s stock to fluctuate.

      1. G4Dualie

        There you go talking about stock again. And, no one said it was an Apple Only issue. Similar articles have appeared about Google. There may be others. This may be standard practice in the cell phone business. But, that does not make it right.

  11. Jobs and other Apple administrators must have been rubbing their hands with glee when these two so-called “researchers” made the claim about iOS devices tracking their owners. As Jobs’ curt response indicates, this must be a bogus claim. Thus, Apple seems to be in no hurry to respond. Might as well wait for all those who are hostile to Apple to put their feet in their mouths – and then give a detailed response that would leave these people red-faced and, hopefully, shut them up for good. As for the guy who wrote to Jobs threatening to switch over to Android, boy, Apple must have been shaking in their boots about losing him as a customer! 😀

    1. The only reason this is news at all, is because the two research clowns who stumbled on this process, have been challenged by a group of forensic scientists who already published their findings with ISO’s endorsement a year earlier.

      In other words, they’re attempting to parlay their “discovery” with the news media to draw attention to a matter that has already received scientific scrutiny.

      It’s yesterday’s news!

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