Apple Now Storing and Sharing Your Location With Others

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Perhaps you should have read this new paragraph in the software license before installing iOS 4. You know, the one that now says that Apple has the right to "collect, use, and share precise [your gadget's] real-time geographic location":

To provide location-based services on Apple products, 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.

Apple and its partners have been using location for a while. That's how the Maps, Twitter, Flixter, Foursquare, or Yelp work. The difference is that you are now giving Apple the right to store that information and share it with third parties. In that paragraph, Apple obscurely claims that the location data is collected anonymously, but there's no description of the exact storage and access policy. At least, I can't find it anywhere.


Most logically, the location information is tied to your device unique identification number. That's the only way to keep track of location moves, and the only way this feature can work for advertisers and app developers. Sadly, this doesn't make the storage anonymous, like Apple claims: Even while it may not contain your name or social security number, the location information could in theory be crossed with a user database to pinpoint the real-time location or the location history of any individual. Recent cases have taught us that apparently is not that hard to have access to unique device identification numbers and their respective user names.


So the questions now are: What data do they exactly record? How is the location data tied to the unique identifiers of your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad? Who exactly can access this information and when? What could be the reasons for accessing this information? How, when, and why police and federal authorities can access your device whereabouts? How long this information is going to be stored? Can I ask Apple to delete all my location information whenever I want?

Lack of transparency
It is perfectly fine for any company to ask for any private information. After all, if they ask and you agree, it is your problem. However, it is not ok for Apple, Google, or any other company to ask for this, without disclosing how they are going to do it.


The lack of transparency is the problem.

In some European countries, companies that want you to give them any private information have answers to all the questions above. You also have the right to completely opt-out, and ask them to delete any records they may have about you.


If you worry about Apple and its partners knowing where have you been and where you are at any given time, you can turn off location services in the general preferences. Apple doesn't make clear if this setting completely deactivates the location function of your device, however. In theory, this switch affects all applications.

The other alternative is to disagree to the terms of service and not install iOS 4. Changing platforms is not an option, however, as Google and Android have exactly the same problem. In other words: Nowhere to run, baby. It's OK. Don't worry. You have been happily and carelessly giving away every single shred of privacy to your favorite corporations, but at least you can be the major of your local Starbucks while you caress your shiny phone.


Oh, and by the way, welcome to 1984. [LA Times]