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Apple Officially Addresses Location Data Controversy

Apple officially acknowledged the growing controversy over the logging of location data on the iPhone and iPad. The document comes in a Q&A format. In it, Apple addresses some common concerns and explicitly states that they are not tracking the location of your iPhone/iPad, has never done so, and has no plans to do so.

The go on to explain the reason for the logging of data:

Why is my iPhone logging my location?
The iPhone is not logging your location. Rather, it’s 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. Calculating a phone’s location using just GPS satellite data can take up to several minutes. iPhone can reduce this time to just a few seconds by using Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data to quickly find GPS satellites, and even triangulate its location using just Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data when GPS is not available (such as indoors or in basements). These calculations are performed live on the iPhone using a crowd-sourced database of Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data that is generated by tens of millions of iPhones sending the geo-tagged locations of nearby Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers in an anonymous and encrypted form to Apple.

Apple states that all data that is transmitted to Apple is anonymous and encrypted and can not be tied to the identity of the user. They also note that findings that the database continues to grow despite Location services being off as a bug that will soon be addressed.

Apple is planning on releasing a free iOS update in the next few weeks that performs the following:

- reduces the size of the crowd-sourced Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower database cached on the iPhone,
- ceases backing up this cache, and
- deletes this cache entirely when Location Services is turned off.