iPhone Tracks Your Location Even If You Opt Out [Updated]

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Sample map that displays location data your iPhone has been collecting. Photo: via O'Reilly Media

Apple has yet to comment on last week's privacy uproar over the fact that your iPhone and Android phones have been tracking your location in order to provide you with location-aware services. (We refuse to call it "Locationgate," but go ahead if you must.) Without a statement, users looked back at a letter Apple sent to concerned congressmen last year. In it, the company assured government officials that location information was collected anonymously. The letter says apps require explicit approval when getting location for the first time and that the device allows users to disable the feature. However, just as Congress is calling an investigation into how Apple stores the data, a test by The Wall Street Journal on a single iPhone 4 reveals that even when the phone was restored to factory settings, location data was still stored.

We still maintain there's little cause to freak out. As the Journal reported, the data, which in some cases was recorded from several miles away, appeared "to be collected using cellphone towers and Wi-Fi access points near a user’s phone and don’t appear to be transmitted back to Apple." That's likely because, as Apple has stated, after it stopped using services from Google and Skyhook Wireless that map cell-phone and Wi-Fi hot spots around the country, it's trying to build one of its own to help with consistency of connection. In that same letter to Congress, Apple stated, "To provide the high quality products and services that its customers demand, Apple must have access to the comprehensive location-based information."

As consumers are unlikely to want to give up speed or service, the issue thankfully seems to be turning away from the shock-and-horror toward what happens to that data — and who gets to access it. Like, how about the users themselves.

IPhone Stored Location in Test Even if Disabled [WSJ]
Apple, Google In Privacy Hot Water Over “Locationgate” [Search Engine Land]
Related: How Much Should You Freak Out About Apple and Google Tracking Your Location?

Update: Steve Jobs has been known to fire off a quick e-mail to customers. Although Apple still has yet to issue an official statement, it seems that the tech demigod did deign to respond to a MacRumors reader with the following exchange:

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

Hey, no one said Jobs got his reputation for being Apple's best salesman because of his personable demeanor — or by neglecting to knock the competition if given a chance.

Steve Jobs on iOS Location Issue: 'We Don't Track Anyone' [MacRumors]