Apple and Google User-Location Data Collection Prompts Security Alerts

April 24, 2011 Updated: October 1, 2015
TRACKED: Julie Bennink makes a phone call on her iPhone in Coral Gables, Fla. Apple reportedly tracks customers' location data through its management software iTunes. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
TRACKED: Julie Bennink makes a phone call on her iPhone in Coral Gables, Fla. Apple reportedly tracks customers' location data through its management software iTunes. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Apple Inc.’s iPhone has come under fire recently as security researchers verified that the smartphone records user location data and sends them back to Cupertino.

According to a report by the Guardian, It seems that there is a tracking device that saves all the details on the phone itself then the information is copied onto the computer that is synchronized with iTunes (the software that enables updates and downloads applications for the iphone).

The crux of the matter is that Apple is storing the information, not so much the functionality of being able to track user location. The fine print in the 200 word terms and conditions for its iTune program, states the following:

"Apple and our partners and licensees may collect, use, and share precise location data, including the real-time geographic location of your Apple computer or device. This location data is collected anonymously in a form that does not personally identify you and is used by Apple and our partners and licensees to provide and improve location-based products and services. For example, we may share geographic location with application providers when you opt in to their location services."

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) has formally written to Apple’s Chief Executive Officer Steve Jobs voicing his disapproval about the security location device and its implication for iPhone users.

In Sen. Franken’s letter he questions Jobs about the transparency behind the iPhone's tracking and the motive behind storing the data. "The existence of this information—stored in an unencrypted format—raises serious privacy concerns. … Anyone who gains access to this single file could likely determine the location of a user's home, the businesses he frequents, the doctors he visits, the schools his children attend, and the trips he has taken—over the past months or even a year."

Google Also Collects Data

Google’s Android software, which also operates on smartphones, is competition to the iPhone and has become increasingly popular. Magnus Erikkson, a Swedish programmer revealed that Android phones are doing the same as the iPhone but the duration of the recording is not as extensive as the Apple device.

So rather than all the data locations being saved for a year, the Android platform will save “record of the locations and unique IDs of the last 50 mobile masts that it has communicated with and the last 200 Wi-Fi networks that it has ‘seen’,” according to the Guardian.

The Swedish researcher’s probe was prompted by the recent reports about the iPhone. "Following the latest days Internet outrage/overreaction to the revelation that iPhone has a cache for its location service, I decided to have a look what my Android devices caches for the same function," commented Eriksson on his website where the source for the computer code revealing the Android location storage details.

Apple has not commented on requests to explain the rationale for storing the location information.