December 2, 2020

Apple to Alter iPhone Data Collection

Apple’s announcement, made in a statement posted on its Web site, came after a week of silence by the company following the discovery by two researchers of a file in the devices containing what appeared to be data of the locations visited by users over the previous 12 months. The discovery raised fears that Apple was tracking its users.

In the statement, Apple denied that it was tracking users. Confirming the speculation of several security researchers, the company said the file is used as a “database of Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers around your current location” that can be used to help a mobile device more accurately discern its location.

But Apple acknowledged that it had made a mistake, attributed to a programming error, in storing the data for a long time. It said it planned to fix the problem with a software update. “We don’t think the iPhone needs to store more than seven days of this data,” the company said.

Apple said it also found a bug in its software that makes it impossible to turn off the data collection. The company said it planned to fix this shortly as well.

Some privacy advocates that were harshly critical of Apple last week said the disclosure by the company and the promise to make changes are steps in the right direction.

“This all demonstrates the complexity of privacy protection with locational services,” Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Information Privacy Center, said in an e-mail. “Apple is moving in the right direction, but there is more that needs to be done.”

Apple also said it can not locate users based on the file on the phone and that the information is sent to Apple in an anonymous and encrypted form. The company cannot identify who the data is from, it said.

The company also said that it would begin encrypting the location file in the next software update.

Apple came under heavy criticism last week for its silence after the location file was discovered on people’s mobile devices.

The location report attracted attention from some government officials, including Senator Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, who sent a stern letter to Apple asking why it was “secretly compiling” the data and what it would be used for.

Google acknowledged last week that it too collected location data from its users. On Tuesday reports said that the Microsoft Windows Phone also tracks a mobile phone’s location.

Apple’s statement did reveal a little about possible future product plans. The company said it also was collecting traffic data with the phones and tablets to build a crowd-sourced traffic database.

Wednesday’s statement was Apple’s first comprehensive response to the reports. The data file was uncovered by researchers and publicized last week and has drawn attention in Congress.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=88cb7eab6a3493aa10ded488c3c2e2d2

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