Apple, Google Collect User Data

Posted in: Mobile & Wireless at 22/04/2011 20:59

Apple Inc.'s iPhones and Google Inc.'s Android smartphones regularly transmit their locations back to Apple and Google, respectively, according to data and documents analyzed by The Wall Street Journal -- intensifying concerns over privacy and the widening trade in personal data.

Google and Apple are gathering location information as part of their race to build massive databases capable of pinpointing people's locations via their cellphones. These databases could help them tap the $2.9 billion market for location-based services -- expected to rise to $8.3 billion in 2014, according to research firm Gartner Inc.

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Inquiries Grow Over Apple's Data Collection Practices
The controversy surrounding the security of Apple's iPhone and iPad escalated Thursday as some European governments said they would investigate whether the company had violated privacy laws by collecting and storing users' geographic location data.

At the same time, some researchers said that contrary to reports published Wednesday, the iPhone's recording of location information in a hidden file on the device, later stored on iTunes on a PC, has been known for some time, and that the information has, on some occasions, been used by law enforcement agencies in investigations.

Apple, Google tap phone location data -WSJ
Apple Inc's iPhones and Google Inc's Android phones send back data about the locations of the users to the technology companies, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.

These phones regularly transmit such data to Apple and Google as the two build databases that could help them tap a market for location-based services, the Journal reported, citing data and documents it had analyzed.

IPhone, IPad Tracking Is Probably a 'Mistake,' Researchers Say
The iPhone and iPad's ability to logs users' whereabouts is probably a mistake that Apple Inc. (AAPL) will eliminate, said the researchers who discovered the feature.

"If this was a conspiracy, this file would have been hidden better and we wouldn't have found it,'' said Alasdair Allan, one of the computer programmers who discovered the tracking feature. "Our best guess is this was an engineering mistake."

Germany says wants clarity on iPhone data storage
Apple Inc must clear up "a string of open questions" about user data stored by its iPhone, iPad, and other devices, a spokesman for Germany's consumer protection ministry said on Thursday.

The call follows a similar request made by U.S. Senator Al Franken on Wednesday, which cited a report by security researchers alleging the company's iOS4 operating system secretly compiled customers' location data in a hidden file.

Cornell prof warns iPhone, iPad users: "We're selling our privacy"
Revelations that iPhones, iPads and other Apple iOS devices track your whereabouts have led a Cornell University professor to warn mobile device users about what they're sacrificing to use such gadgets.

"It is vitally important to recognize that cellular telephony is a surveillance technology, and that unless we openly discuss this surveillance capability and craft appropriate legal and technological limits to that capability, we may lose some or all of the social benefits of this technology, as well as a significant piece of ourselves," says Stephen Wicker, Cornell professor of electrical and computer engineering. "Most people don't understand that we're selling our privacy to have these devices."

iPhone Location Tracking Draws Fire, Shrugs
When word got out that your iPhone records your movements, privacy advocates and conspiracy theorists began wringing their hands. Others simply shrugged.

The thinking goes: Suspicious spouses, private investigators, and other nefarious third parties can commandeer your iPhone or iTunes-synced computer and discover your time-stamped whereabouts.

Android phones record user-locations according to research
Smartphones running Google's Android software collect data about the user's movements in almost exactly the same way as the iPhone, according to an examination of files they contain. The discovery, made by a Swedish researcher, comes as the Democratic senator Al Franken has written to Apple's chief executive Steve Jobs demanding to know why iPhones keep a secret file recording the location of their users as they move around, as the Guardian revealed this week.

Magnus Eriksson, a Swedish programmer, has shown that Android phones - now the bestselling smartphones - do the same, though for a shorter period. According to files discovered by Android devices keep a record of the locations and unique IDs of the last 50 mobile masts that it has communicated with, and the last 200 Wi-Fi networks that it has "seen". These are overwritten, oldest first, when the relevant list is full. It is not yet known whether the lists are sent to Google. That differs from Apple, where the data is stored for up to a year.

In addition, the file is not easily accessible to users: it requires some computer skills to extract the data. By contrast, the Apple file is easily extracted directly from the computer or phone.

How police have obtained iPhone, iPad tracking logs
Law enforcement agencies have known since at least last year that an iPhone or iPad surreptitiously records its owner's approximate location, and have used that geolocation data to aid criminal investigations.

Apple has never publicized the undocumented feature buried deep within the software that operates iPhones and iPads, which became the topic of criticism this week after a researcher at a conference in Santa Clara, Calif., described in detail how it works. Apple had acknowledged to Congress last year only that "cell tower and Wi-Fi access point information" is "intermittently" collected and "transmitted to Apple" every 12 hours.

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