Apple on Wednesday responded to concerns over the iPhone's gathering of location data in the form of a lengthy Q&A document on its website.
The brouhaha began one week ago, when The Guardian published a report stating that iPhones (and 3G iPads) gathered and stored location data that could theoretically be used to trace an iPhone user's historical whereabouts. Congress was concerned; Macworld Senior Associate Editor Dan Moren wasn't.
[ This week lawmakers quizzed Apple and Google about location tracking. | InfoWorld's Galen Gruman says about mobile location services: Don't ruin the pending revolution. | Follow the latest in Apple technology with our Technology: Apple newsletter. | Keep up on mobile developments with InfoWorld's Mobilize newsletter. ]
Apple, in its new Q&A document, states unequivocally: "Apple is not tracking the location of your iPhone. Apple has never done so and has no plans to ever do so." The document continues: "Users are confused, partly because the creators of this new technology (including Apple) have not provided enough education about these issues to date."
The crux of Apple's point is that the data being gathered isn't where you've been, but rather the locations of wireless hotspots and cell towers across the country.
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... 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.
Notably, Apple says that the geotagging data your iPhone generates and sends back to Apple cannot be used to identify or locate you; the information is both anonymous and encrypted. Furthermore, the company says that "the location data that researchers are seeing on the iPhone is not the past or present location of the iPhone, but rather the locations of Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers surrounding the iPhone's location... We plan to cease backing up this cache in a software update coming soon."