According to Steve Jobs, Apple’s iPhone and/or Apple corporation (the distinction is important but often muddled in this conversation) does not track its users’ geographical location, but Android (which is neither a phone nor a company, but a system … another important yet muddled distinction) does.

Supposedly:

One MacRumors reader emailed Apple CEO Steve Jobs asking for clarification on the issue while hinting about a switch to Android if adequate explanations are not forthcoming. Jobs reportedly responded, turning the tables by claiming both that Apple does not track users and that Android does while referring to the information about iOS shared in the media as “false”.

Q: Steve,

Could you please explain the necessity of the passive location-tracking tool embedded in my iPhone? It’s kind of unnerving knowing that my exact location is being recorded at all times. Maybe you could shed some light on this for me before I switch to a Droid. They don’t tracfk me.

A: Oh yes they do. We don’t track anyone. The info circulating around is false.

Sent from my iPhone

The truth is that Android gathers locatoial information (but in less detail than the iPhone) and wipes the data periodically. The data are not stored anywhere else. Apple, apparently, lets you “turn off” tracking but it doesn’t really stop recording the data when you select that option.

The bit about tracking is probably a mole hill made mountain, but the comment by Jobs, which simply can not be true, is interesting. Did this email ever actually exist? If it did, why is the head of a major corporation even making a statement like this, and is it OK for someone in his position to just make stuff up?

Comments

  1. #1 ScienceAndHonor
    April 26, 2011

    Short answer, no. Long answer (still short actually), Jobs probably has no idea what he’s talking about.

  2. #2 Andrew Beck
    April 26, 2011

    Actually Jobs is partly right and you are partly right. Android does collect the same sort of information that Apple is collecting for a cache of recently accessed locations. Android does the proper thing though and periodically flushes the cache (and only keeps a certain amount). However, Android does have an opt in tracking system such that detailed location information is sent back to Google to improve their location services. It’s anonymized so it’s fairly difficult (though not impossible) to tie it back to you. So, when Jobs says Android tracks you he is correct if and only if you’ve opted in to the tracking system.

  3. #3 Mr Ed
    April 26, 2011

    Jobs then said, “we’ve always been at war with Eastasia.”

  4. #4 sqlrob
    April 26, 2011

    If Apple doesn’t track, why did they tell Congress they absolutely needed to track?

  5. #5 feralboy12
    April 26, 2011

    If your iPhone is tracking you, you’re holding it wrong.

  6. #6 comradecarter
    April 26, 2011

    This is anamazingly frustrating thing…

    I wan to believe Greg Laden,but I can’t get past his frustration with Apple, and his love for Android.

    As I write this on my Linux based OS, I’m just stumped.

    I don’t KNOW what Apple does, if anything, with the data. (I assume it is MUCH less than Greg does.)

    I also don’t KNOW what Google does with their Android, (I assume it is much more than Greg does, it is probably much more than Apple does.)

  7. #7 peter
    April 26, 2011

    I think the distinction is that apple does not track you, your iphone does (and no more so than at&t and verizon do with any other phone.) apple and jobs can quite happily say they don’t track you if that info never leaves your possession.

    the question is whether or not that data is used for anything other than the apparent purpose, which is not tracking you, rather keeping a record of network connection locations. what seems to be stored in the file in question is location of cell towers that you have used. not your actual coordinates. though that may be close enough, but as you may have noticed using the maps app in any system that depends on cell phone tower data, sometimes that data can be waaaaay off. (once I found my self in texas when I was 1000 miles away.) in apple’s case, they have very publically made it a point that third parties are not allowed to use your location data. android/google has no such public stance to my knowledge.

    as well, its not as if the cell companies don’t already have this set of information available to them at all times, and in a situation that you do not have any control over and are required to store it and divulge it on court order, (and sometimes without.) all cell phones report the same location data when ever they are used. all cell calls have to go through a tower. that tower is noted by the phone company. who knows what they do with it.

  8. #8 Ken
    April 26, 2011

    Your cell phone, any cell phone, is, and always has been, a tracking device. That’s how cell phones work. If the phone company couldn’t track where you were, they couldn’t get a phone call to your phone.

    Your cell provider has that information on their computers. How long do they keep that tracking information? Why is no one upset about this but is outraged at Apple?

  9. #9 Andrew Beck
    April 26, 2011

    @Ken

    The reason is that there is some difficulty in acquiring that information from the phone company. Realistically the government would probably need a warrant to access it. And a crazy stalker or someone trying to do something evil to me has almost zero chance of getting it from the phone company.

    The difference with the iPhone is that this file is available on the phone (and easy to remove from the phone) and on any computer that has a backup of the phone. It’s available unencrypted and in an easy to read format. I only need a few seconds alone with either device to have your entire location history.

  10. #10 Greg Laden
    April 26, 2011

    Actually, I think it is a tempest in a teapot. The problem is, WHERE IS THE TEAPOT????

  11. #11 Ken
    April 26, 2011

    @Andrew Beck

    You really should reconsider your policy of giving your iPhone or computer to crazy stalkers. Sounds dangerous for more than just the iPhone file. ;-)

    If anyone gets that file (and all my other personal information) from my phone and/or my PC I’ll know about it. I honestly don’t know who has access to the phone company tracking records, how they are used/stored, or what purposes they may be used for in the future, marketing or otherwise.

    Your supermarket loyalty card database also reveals more information than most people think about, such as likely medical conditions (buying only sugar-free items), alcohol use, bad eating habits, etc. That’s information I certainly wouldn’t put on my resume, yet is collected and controlled beyond my control. At some point that information can be sold for profit for data mining.

    The only good thing to come out of this tempest is that now more people know of the existence of at least one teapot.

  12. #12 P Smith
    April 26, 2011

    Jobs was never the technical wizard, that was Wozniak. Once Apple had enough technically capable people, Jobs dumped Woz and went his own direction. Ever since Jobs returned from his exile, it has been Apple employees doing Jobs’ bidding like it were a fiefdom. From what I read, it was very much the same behaviour when he was running NeXT.

    Apple is now a cult of personality around Jobs. It wouldn’t surprise if he thinks he’s now unaccountable and can say what he likes whether true or not, or whether he knows or not.

    .