Apple iPhone and iPad Tracking Controversy

Devices running iOS, Apple’s mobile operating system, routinely track the user’s location using Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers. These positions are stored locally for easy retrieval by apps and the file is covertly sent to Apple when synced to a computer — an action that has raised cries of privacy invasion.

These files, however, are nothing new. Other technology giants have been collecting this data for years.

These problems are a symptom of a new technological shift, and Apple isn’t the only company with these problems.

This event calls to mind Google’s misstep last year. Controversy surrounded Google for its “accidental” accumulation of unencrypted wireless data while taking snapshots for its Street View feature.

Apple has found itself in a similar position — users are suing Apple over the alleged tracking, claiming that is violating privacy and the law. Apple is listening to user concerns and will, in a few weeks, offer a free software update that will only allow iOS devices to store data for one week.

This isn’t necessarily a Big Brother situation, but it isn’t something that users should brush off, either. Consumers need to be aware of what information their personal electronics store. Technology giants will continue to push the boundaries; it’s up to their customers to question their practices and let the industry know when it’s gone too far.

—Alex Pakzad

Staff Writer

Violation of Privacy is Unacceptable

Be careful — your beloved iPhone may well be the source of your next few trips to the courthouse. Security researchers have recently discovered a disturing hidden feature in Apple’s iPhone and iPad.

Not only does it keep track of where its users go (a necessary feature for apps like Maps), but it saves every detail of their location down to the latitude and longitude.

When your iPhone is synched up to a computer, that data’s transferred over — a feature Apple users never signed up for when they dropped $300 on the latest and greatest.

While other mobile operating systems such as Android require their users to specifically make their data available, the iPhone records the data regardless of user consent.

Other concerns are swirling around the possibility that the police can obtain user data to use against them in a court of law.

Under the Regulation of Investigatory Power Act, a search warrant is required before such data can be obtained — but if all of the data was not saved in the first place, there wouldn’t be such a threat to privacy.

Another major issue is that anybody — from a jealous significant other to a random thief — could steal your iPhone or iPad, and have instant access to your whereabouts for the last year.

Though Apple is claiming that this is just a bug, there is simply no need for iPhones to store that much data. Though this may be the Information Age, there are just some things that people want to keep to themselves.

—Margaret Yau

Opinion Editor

C’mon, There’s No Conspiracy Here

As scary as the thought of Apple tracking its customers’ whereabouts may be, consumers need not fear — Apple is merely using this location data to improve user experiences.

The iPhone and iPad both obtain anonymous, encrypted location data.

Not only is it impossible to pinpoint the exact real-time locations of users after the fact; the data cannot be traced back to specific users.

While many allegations have emerged about police forces using the data, in accordance to the Fourth Amendment, they cannot obtain data without a search warrant.

The Cupertino-based company maintains that the iPhone merely keeps track of Wi-Fi hotspots and nearby cell tower locations (which can be picked up more than 100 miles away). This allows the device to estimate the location of the user through GPS applications. The data is used not to keep tabs on consumers, but to power popular iPhone functions like driving directions.

For those who are still not convinced, a free software update that will prevent the local cache from storing data over seven days old will be released within the next few weeks. This update will allow users to turn location services off, entirely removing the stored cache.

This option is also found on smartphones designed by Google, Microsoft and Nokia — none of whom have seen harm in storing location data. According to Apple, the next version of the iOS 4.3.3 or 4.4 mobile operating system will even be designed to encrypt each device’s cache.

— Hilary Lee

Staff Writer

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