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Apple Now Tracking iPhone Users

June 22, 2010

If you've got a tin foil hat, it's time to put it on. Recent changes to Apple's updated privacy policy have given those worried about being watched a reason to be concerned.

With the release of iOS4, iDevices are now able to record location information in more situations and more often. Also with iOS4 came a change in the Apple privacy policy. The section about location services in the  updated privacy policy which has caused some to be concerned is as follows:
To provide location-based services on Apple products, Apple and our partners and licensees may collect, use, and share precise location data, including the real-time geographic location of your Apple computer or device. This location data is collected anonymously in a form that does not personally identify you and is used by Apple and our partners and licensees to provide and improve location-based products and services. For example, we may share geographic location with application providers when you opt in to their location services.
These privacy terms are taking effect now and mean that Apple can collect location information from your iPhone and share it with other companies, all without you knowing. The information gathered would not include anything personal or identifying, but to many, any information gathered without their knowledge is too much. There are a few things to keep in mind, however. For one, iOS4 has added an icon that appears at the top of the screen any time the GPS is active. Another is that Steve Jobs has previously made it clear that he wants all apps that gather location information to ask for permission before activating the GPS. That is backed up by the fact is says specifically that they collect location information while running an app "when you opt in to their location services." Lastly, you can turn off location services in the iPhone's settings. The Los Angeles Times took a more cynical stance, pointing out that it never says specifically that you have to opt-in or be notified when Apple is collecting the data directly. It also doesn't explicitly state that turning off location services disables it completely on the device. This type of agreement is not new. Google has been doing the same on the Android devices for some time without any major issues so far. In fact it is likely that the common user will never know, and likely does not even care, about these changes. However, we would like to see Apple clarify it's location services policies in the near future to address the concerns the L.A. times mentioned.

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