Today Apple released a Q&A about the location data that's stored on the iPhone. In the statement, the company says broadly that it does not track the iPhone's location, and that the data, which is currently stored in an unprotected file, will be encrypted in the next major update of iOS.
In the statement, Apple admits that iPhones send location data to Apple to maintain a crowd-sourced database of Wi-Fi hotspots and cell phone towers, as many have suspected. However, the company says the locations recorded can be up to 100 miles away from the where the phone actually is, and that the data is sent anonymously.
Apple further explains that it's creating the database to provide better location services on the phone. By using the crowd-sourced locations of cell towers and hotspots, the phone can more quickly locate the user than if it were using GPS satellite data alone. Putting the entire database on every user's phone would be untenable, though, so an iPhone requesting location services accesses a subset, or cache, of the database. It's this data, not necessarily data specifically generated by the user, that's stored in the unencrypted file, "consolidated.db."
At the same time, though, the company effectively admits that retaining such a lengthy and comprehensive location record on the phone—ever since the user upgraded to iOS 4, or about a year for most users—is unnecessary to maintain such a database. Also, backing the file up to a user's computer is clearly not needed either. Apple says it plans to do four things in the next major update of iOS:
Coverage of the iPhone tracking "feature" has ranged from concern to outrage. "I don't know about you, but the fact that this feature exists on an iPhone is a deal-killer," wrote PCMag Columnist John Dvorak, shortly after news broke. Editor Dan Costa drew a softer line, writing, "Apple may not be actively tracking you, but it did turn your phone into a tracking device without telling you."
I'm not about to give Apple a pass on disclosure or execution. Who combs through an Apple privacy statement when the latest iOS software awaits? And, to "collect" and "share" user data is one thing; to retain it in an unprotected file is quite another.
However, I think it's important that, with a few days' hindsight, we move beyond the bombast, pin down the facts, and see what's actually there. To do this, I've taken a close look at what's at risk and, in empirical spirit, borrowed fellow PCMag software analyst Jeff Wilson's iPhone 3GS to see what I could learn of the man and the travels using Pete Warden's iPhoneTracker app.
Did you know that Apple is tracking your every move with your iPhone and iPad? A blog post published today on O'Reilly Radar claims that devices running iOS 4 are gathering location and storing it in an unencrypted manner.
"What makes this issue worse is that the file is unencrypted and unprotected, and it's on any machine you've synched with your iOS device. It can also be easily accessed on the device itself if it falls into the wrong hands. Anybody with access to this file knows where you've been over the last year, since iOS 4 was released," wrote Pete Warden, founder of the Data Science Toolkit, and Alasdair Allan, a senior research fellow at the University of Exeter.
The data is being stored to a file known as "consolidated.db," which includes latitude-longitude coordinates and a timestamp.
Of course, this shouldn't surprise anyone who read the entire 45-page EULA, as it clearly states the following clause when going into detail on the type of “non-personal information” that Apple can “collect, use, transfer, and disclose … for any purpose.”
We may collect information such as occupation, language, zip code, area code, unique device identifier, location, and the time zone where an Apple product is used so that we can better understand customer behavior and improve our products, services, and advertising.
TeleNav today announced that the TeleNav GPS application will be available in the Apple App Store as a free download for Verizon Wireless iPhone 4 users when the device is released on Thursday, February 10.
TeleNav allows user to access free maps and perform local searches. Advanced navigation features are also available, including spoken turn-by-turn directions and 3D moving maps. The advanced features will be free for 30 days after downloading the app. After that they will cost users $2.99 per month on a pay-as-you-go basis, or $21.99 per year. Regardless of whether users choose to pay for the advanced navigation features, the GPS map and local search capabilities will remain free.
In the crowded world of location apps like Foursquare and Facebook Places, Google Latitude aimed to differentiate itself from the rest of the pack. Unlike the others which center around checking into places by tapping an icon, Latitude always tracked where you were in real-time, without any user interaction needed. Then it would share your whereabouts with your friends as you moved around. Thing is, people like checking in. So Google went ahead and added the ability to check in on Latitude, which will allow more flexibility for users of the app. A more interesting feature in Latitude is you can even choose to be automatically checked into locations, which sounds fairly ridiculous given how close many spots are to each other.
At CES, we were able to chat with Marc Barros, CEO of Contour. Countour makes a line of hands-free wearable video cameras. They records in full HD video, and can even track your GPS coordinates and elevation. This means you can see the path you took while recording. You can also connect the Contour camera to your phone using an app, showing you a live view of what the camera is seeing. The camera connects to the app over Bluetooth. They're available for $349 with GPS, or $279 without.
Who knew Coke Zero would be in the forefront of gaming innovation? Last week, Coca-Cola released "the first ever location-based videogame" called LiveCycle.
LiveCyle is based on Disney's TRON: Legacy film and the premise of the game is to move around the real world real to create a Light Wall and derezz your opponents, and avoid being derezzed by theirs. The Coke Zero websites offers a trailer of the game which makes it seem like a pretty fun idea, though there is a lack of actually gameplay. Real gaming innovation or interactive advertising? You decide! Play the game and let us know in the comments!
Live Cycle is available in the iTunes stores for the low, low price of $0.00. Download it here.
Google has been in the location game for years now, but services like Foursquare and Facebook Places have been producing buzz faster, in part based on their mobile apps. Google has had their service, Google Latitude, integrated in Android handsets for some time now, and they've finally released an iPhone app to compete with the other already established players. With 9 million active users, mostly because it's baked into their Google Maps product, they have a somewhat credible offering. So far, Latitude has been mostly a passive service that people use when looking for local search results, or browsing a map. This is a model that's much different than Foursquare, Gowalla, and Facebook Place, which are all about checking in to a specific place rather than just showing a physical location.
The Latitude iPhone app keeps using that passive model, where the app shares your location automatically with your friends, even in the background, as long as you allowed them to view where you are. You can also browse the map and see where they are in real time. It can be argued that such a passive system is the wave of the future, as people tire of constantly checking into a location app, but it sure doesn't produce the same amount of hype for the service, so it remains to be seen which service people will decide to share their locations with.
Read More | Google Latitude
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be guided to your destination via the dulcet-tones of James Earl Jones breathing through a ventilator? If so, then Tom Tom’s announcement of their release of Star Wars voices for their GPS nav systems should make your day, and if not, then you should probably stop reading this right now because you are dead inside. Beginning this month Tom Tom is making one new Star Wars voice available for purchase through August. Following the first available voice, Darth Vader, June will see the release of C-3P0, July will be Yoda, and finally Han Solo will wrap up what will be remembered as The Summer of GPS Nerdyness. For the sake of entertainment, someone should come up with an R2D2 mod, available in September. I would buy it just so that I could get in witty, one-sided conversations with my car during my long road-trips to comic conventions and film festivals by myself. God, I am so alone…
We just got the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7 digital camera in for review, and we must say, we are pretty stoked. We were big fans of last year’s DMC-ZS3, and the ZS7 improves upon that model with a 16x intelligent optical zoom, 12.1 megapixel images, much improved facial recognition, and GPS integration. We’re excited to put this one through the paces, especially with the built-in geotagging, and we will have that to you soon. In the meantime, we’ve put together a Lumix DMC-ZS7 unboxing gallery to show off the goods. Check it out!
Read More | Panasonic Lumix ZS7 unboxing gallery