Al Franken grills Steve Jobs over iPad, iPhone tracking

Did you know that every time you use your iPhone or iPad, Apple is collecting your exact latitude and longitude, and storing the data in an unencrypted format, without asking you first?

It's news to Sen. Al Franken, and he's just fired off a scathing letter to Apple boss Steve Jobs, demanding an explanation.

The story about Apple tracking its iOS users was broken by O'Reilly Radar.

You are being watched.
You are being watched.

All iPhones appear to log your location to a file called "consolidated.db." This contains latitude-longitude coordinates along with a timestamp. The coordinates aren't always exact, but they are pretty detailed.

There can be tens of thousands of data points in this file, and it appears the collection started with iOS 4, so there's typically around a year's worth of information at this point.

When you synch your iPhone or iPad to a hard drive, the tracking data synchronizes, too. Apple watchers say the data isn't being used for anything right now--but could be down the road.

Franken's main beef is this: It's bad enough that most iPhone/iPad users--including kids--don't know they're being tracked, but it's worse that Apple makes it so easy for the data to be hacked: "The existence of this information--stored in an unencrypted format--raises serious privacy concerns."

He wants some answers from Jobs:

Steve Jobs: This man is tracking you.
Steve Jobs: This man is tracking you.

  • Why does Apple collect and compile this location data? Why did Apple choose to initiate tracking this data in its iOS 4 operating system?
  • Does Apple collect and compile this location data for laptops?
  • How is this data generated? (GPS, cell tower triangulation, Wi-Fi triangulation, etc.)
  • How frequently is a user's location recorded? What triggers the creation of a record of someone's location?
  • How precise is this location data? Can it track the users location to 50 m, 100 m, etc.?
  • Why is this data not encrypted? What steps will Apple take to encrypt the data?
  • Why were Apple consumers never affirmatively informed of the collection and retention of their location data in this manner? Why did Apple not seek affirmative consent before doing so?
  • Does Apple believe that this conduct is permissible under the terms of its privacy policy?
  • To whom, if anyone, including Apple, has this data been disclosed? When and why were these disclosures made?

Read the full letter by clicking here.

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