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Apple denies iPhones store user location

NEW YORK (AP) - Apple Inc. denied Wednesday that iPhones store a
record of their users' movements for up to a year and blamed
privacy concerns partly on a misunderstanding.
A data file publicized by security researchers last week doesn't
store users' locations, but a list of Wi-Fi hotspots and cell
towers in their general area, the company said. It promised
software fixes to address concerns over that file.
The data, downloaded from Apple, help the phone figure out its
location without having to listen for faint signals from GPS
satellites. That means navigation applications can present the
phone's location faster and more accurately, Apple said.
Apple said the data are stored for up to a year because of a
software error. The company said there's no need to store data for
more than seven days, and a software update in the next few weeks
will limit the amount of data in that file.
The iPhone will also stop backing up the file to the user's
computer, a practice that raised some concerns. Computers are much
more vulnerable to remote hacking attempts than are phones.
A third planned fix is to stop downloading the data to phones
that have all "Location Services" turned off, Apple said, and to
encrypt the file on those where it's on.
"Users are confused, partly because creators of this new
technology (including Apple) have not provided enough education
about these issues to date," Apple said in its statement.
As demonstrated by the location-analysis software released by
Allan and Warden, the lists of Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers
generated by iPhones can be used to construct a general record of
users' movements.
But a snoop needs access to the victim's phone or PC, both of
which usually store lots of other personal information. Phones
contain texts, emails and lists of phone calls. PCs contain such
information as tax returns, logs of websites visited and passwords.
In an email, Warden said it was good to have an explanation for
the existence of the file.
"They don't address our claim that this reveals sensitive
information about your travels but we're just relieved to get an
explanation and a fix," he said.
Wednesday's statement was Apple's first comprehensive response
to the most recent allegations. Apple had revealed the nature of
the location file in a letter to Congress last summer following an
earlier round of questions about its location-tracking practices.
The file drew new attention last week, after a report from
researchers Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden at a technology
conference in Santa Clara, Calif.
Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., questioned whether the practice was
legal under a federal law governing the use of location information
for commercial purposes, if consumers weren't properly informed.
In Wednesday's statement, Apple reiterated that while iPhones
regularly transmit their location to Apple, they do so only
anonymously, and the company isn't able to track users. It can also
transmit a user's location to companies that buy ads through
Apple's iAds advertising system, but only if the user approves
giving the current location to a particular ad.
Google Inc. acknowledged last week that phones running its
Android software store some location data directly on phones for a
short time from users who have chosen to use GPS services. Google
said that was done "to provide a better mobile experience on
Android devices." It also stressed that any location sharing is
done with the user's permission.
Apple shares fell $1.69, or 0.5 percent, to $348.73 in midday
trading Wednesday.
Apple Q&A on location tracking: http://bit.ly/fvsEiM

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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