The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Apple Wanted Location Data To Make Its Products Even More Compelling

Posted on | April 22, 2011 | 3 Comments

by Smitty

In its way, the concern over Apple’s iPhone data collection is laughable. If people understood the half of the data that companies and governments collect, they would. . .do pretty much what they are doing.

Turns out the answer is simpler than you think, and it doesn’t involve a conspiracy theory, the government or David Duchovny. Basically, Apple keeps track of your location data so that it can maintain its own location database. By golly, it also turns out they’ve explained it some time ago–last summer.

Last year, Apple lawyer Bruce Sewell sent a letter to two congressmen explaining and disclosing Apple’s location-data collection techniques and policies. The 13-page letter reports that location data is only tracked and transmitted if a user turns on the Location Services option on in the Settings menu. If the option is turned off, nothing is collected.

According to the letter, the data is stored in what we can only assume is “consolidated.db,” randomly assigned an identification number every 24 hours, and sent off every 12 hours to Apple. The data gets stored in a secure database “accessible only by Apple.”

Apple then collects information about nearby cell towers and Wi-Fi access points whenever you utilize a service that requests your current location. It sometimes automatically happens with location-based apps that utilize GPS technology.

It turns out Apple ditched the location databases it was previously using from Google and SkyHook Wireless, and is in fact using their own. Now for that to happen, what Apple needs is location data. What better way than to pull it from the millions of existing iPhone customers already roaming around the globe?

The crux of the matter is that there is precious little middle ground. You either go full-on modern data-driven society, and know that you have to deliberately unplug to be free of the tether, or, alternately, you can opt for something in the Afghanistan to Papua-New Guinea range. It’s almost a binary proposition. High or low tech. Not much middle ground.
One of the translators here in Bagram was decrying the state of Afghanistan in terms of infrastructure. I gathered he’d been a US citizen for a couple of decades. I couldn’t resist making the gentle point that one of the things needed to get Afghanistan going was for people who had been abroad and acquired some education to cease their wandering ways and come home. Fix up the joint.
The response was along the lines of “Screw that noise!”
Sure, I’m quite ready to drop the place like a bad habit. So what are we going to do, distribute 80 million iPhones around Afghanistan? “Domestic peace: there is an app for that!”
As for iPhones, I’ve been a Nokia addict for too long, even though I’m composing this post on a MacBook Pro, and ran 5k while jacked into an iPod, the Genius Mix thingy being a killer feature. When we’re all dead with this technology, Stacy McCain will stand in the ruins, I-told-you-so card cocked at 11 o’clock, saying “Uh huh.”


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