Apple Goes to Washington To Insist ‘We Don’t Track Users’

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See, the trick is there is no keyboard on the iPhone. Photo: CSPAN

You have questions about Locationgate? Al Franken's newly-formed privacy subcommittee has answers. The subject of the hearing on the Senate floor this morning was mobile privacy. But all anyone was really there to talk about was the discovery that Google and Apple have been tracking users' locations — and the free-for-all freak-out that ensued. Franken started with a bit of soothing flattery: “No one up here wants to stop Apple or Google from producing their products or doing the incredible things that you do," he assured them. "You guys are brilliant. When people think of the word ‘brilliant’ they think of the people that founded and run your companies." Seriously, I like really wish I had stock in your companies. Do you want to give me some stock? Did I mention I am running the proceedings? Fine, how about an iPad? Then, once they were lulled into complacency, Franken pounced.

The Senator from Minnesota asked Apple how consumers were supposed to reconcile contrasting TWO statements: (1) Steve Jobs saying that Apple’s database only marked cell towers that could be hundreds of miles away from a user’s location (2) while also saying saying the same database helps the phone figure out exact location.


"The combination of the database of where are those cell phone towers and WiFi hotspots, and the phone’s knowledge of what you can receive, is how the phone can determine your location.”

Before the hearings, Representative Markey had asked the same thing, saying:

"Such a distinction does not make much difference to consumers whose location could be pinpointed with great accuracy.While Apple states that 'some' of these hotspots and cell towers may be more than a 100 miles from a user's location, others may be much closer."

In a written response, Apple reiterated (again) that is it not tracking customers' locations and that any location-based information collected is done so anonymously for the purpose of enhancing services like on-the-go directions. Like we said, it seems like your reaction to Locationgate depends, at least in part, on how quickly you want to figure out where you're going when you're lost.

Apple Tells Senate, ‘We Don’t Track Users’ [Barrons]
Apple tells Markey it doesn't track users [Politico]
Al Franken: Smart phone and app privacy no joke [Politico]
Earlier: How Much Should You Freak Out About Apple and Google Tracking Your Location?
Apple Deigns to Explain Privacy Tracking So You Noobs Will Shut Up Already Jeez