On my recent visit to Laptop Magazine’s world head quarters in New York City, a big story was breaking. The story involved iOS devices tracking a users location going back to, well the beginning of life for the iPhone 4 and the iPad. When O’Reilly Media’s Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden broke the story it seemed to be exclusive to the iPad and the iPhone 4, which of course to date have sold millions of devices.
The original report declares that there is no immediate cause for panic. Allan says in the blogpost there’s no immediate harm that would seem to come from the availability of this data. Nor is there evidence to suggest this data is leaving your custody.
More after the break
According to reports the purpose of the data is to make your smartphone smart and it’s using these geolocation tags to offer up deals, and location based services. The difference in this case between iOS and Android is that iPhone 4’s and iPads are storing this data on your iOS device and then backing it up every time you sync your iOS device with iTunes.
Backing the data up to iTunes means that not only is the location based data tags stored on your phone, but also every computer that you’ve used to sync iTunes with your device. It’s not clear what, if anything, Apple plans on doing with this user data, but to top off this privacy breach, the data is stored unencrypted.
It should be obvious to any person purchasing a smartphone wtih GPS capability that the device is able to see where you are. However the concern rises that should be the gist of the entire transaction. The gathering and storing of sensitive location based data should be at the will of the user regardless of smartphone OS.
Unlike Apple, Google says that, while the GPS and network location based services do use your geotag info to interact with applications and deliver relevant and important data to your Android device, it does not store that information. In fact Google tells Ina Fried at All Things Digital, that Google “uses an anonymized token as opposed to being tied to other information”
Google allows their users to control the location sharing information delivered from their handset. They go on to tell Fried
“We provide users with notice and control over the collection, sharing and use of location in order to provide a better mobile experience on Android devices. Any location data that is sent back to Google location servers is anonymized and is not tied or traceable to a specific user.”
Citizen privacy has been a big concern to Congress over the past few years. Last year Apple provided information about their data collection to Congressman Ed Markey of Massachusetts however Markey is concerned about the recent developments telling Fried “Collecting, storing and disclosing a consumer’s location for commercial purposes without their express permission is unacceptable and would violate current law.”