Apple has denied that it tracks the location of its iPhone users in response to recent reports stating the company maintains detailed records of its devices’ locations.
“Apple is not tracking the location of your iPhone. Apple has never done so and has no plans to ever do so,” the company said in a statement on its website today.
However, Apple conceded that the device maintains a log of nearby Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers to help determine its location.
Apple says that it collects information from nearby hotspots and towers to determine a user’s location because using GPS can take several minutes to pinpoint a phone’s location. Many of the iPhone’s functions require fast, accurate location data, such as mapping apps and location-sensitive mobile advertising.
The company’s explanation of the iPhone’s collection of location data is in line with recent reports that the device records time-stamped GPS coordinates, stores them in a file and then transfers the location information to a user’s computer when they sync their iPhone with iTunes.
The iPhone stores up to a year of information about its location and continues logging Wi-Fi and cell tower data from Apple’s crowd-sourced database even after users turn off location service.
Apple said the lengthy storage of location information and the inability to stop the iPhone from logging the data was “a bug.”
The company plans to issue an iOS software update sometime in the next few weeks that will reduce the amount of location information stored on the iPhone; stop sending the information to iTunes; encrypt the device’s cache of location information; and stop adding data about hotspots and cell towers to its database when the iPhone is turned off.
According to Apple, the iPhone is not logging user’s location but is “maintaining a database of Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers around your current location, some of which may be located more than one hundred miles away from your iPhone, to help your iPhone rapidly and accurately calculate its location when requested.”
The calculations are anonymously added to a crowd-sourced data base which is stored first on the iPhone and then backed up to iTunes when users sync their devices.
The tracking and storage of location data by the iPhone and other smartphones has come under scrutiny by lawmakers in both the House and Senate and Illinois State Attorney General Lisa Madigan.
On Monday, five Republicans from the House Energy and Commerce Committee penned a letter asking six tech companies, including Apple and Google, to answer questions about how their devices track and share users’ location data. Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) said Monday he plans to hold a hearing on May 10 about the issue, and Attorney General Madigan also called for a meeting with Apple and Google on the subject.