Why is my iPhone logging my location?

Image representing Apple as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

Apple officially acknowledged the growing controversy over the logging of location data on the iPhone and iPad. They have published a Q&A on their website which clearly states:

Apple is not tracking the location of your iPhone. Apple has never done so and has no plans to ever do so.

It then goes on to address the other concerns that have been commonly used in articles hyping the issue:

Quote from acknowledgment:

The iPhone is not logging your location. Rather, it’s maintaining a database of Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers around your current location, some of which may be located more than one hundred miles away from your iPhone, to help your iPhone rapidly and accurately calculate its location when requested. Calculating a phone’s location using just GPS satellite data can take up to several minutes. iPhone can reduce this time to just a few seconds by using Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data to quickly find GPS satellites, and even triangulate its location using just Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data when GPS is not available (such as indoors or in basements). These calculations are performed live on the iPhone using a crowd-sourced database of Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data that is generated by tens of millions of iPhones sending the geo-tagged locations of nearby Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers in an anonymous and encrypted form to Apple.

Interestingly Apple does admit that this wasn’t entirely well thought through and are considering the lack of ability to completely disable the function a “bug”

7. When I turn off Location Services, why does my iPhone sometimes continue updating its Wi-Fi and cell tower data from Apple’s crowd-sourced database?
It shouldn’t. This is a bug, which we plan to fix shortly (see Software Update section below).

Apple has now released IOS 4.3.3 which:

  1. makes the location cache size smaller, thus limiting the amount of data collected on your location (and presumably the amount of time that can be traced back)
  2. No longer backs up the cache information to your iTunes account on your computer.
  3. Allows for complete disablement of the cache when you turn off the location option in your settings.
If you are not using an application that needs location services, why not take the safer route and turn off the feature until you find you need it?  As odd as that sounds to many iPhone users, a quick check of a few iPhones near me revealed that 3 out of 7 users (highly informal poll I know) did not have their location services on and were quite happy with their iPhones.


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