The internet has been all a-flurry ever since a pair of researchers debuted an app which showed how iOS4 was tracking user movements. Even though this aspect of iOS4 had already been discovered since late 2010, this latest round found a larger audience, and has triggered the United States Congress to ask for a hearing from Apple, Google, Microsoft Corp, Nokia Corp, Research in Motion Ltd and Hewlett-Packard Co.
Yesterday, Apple published an official 10 point Q&A on the matter:
3. Why is my iPhone logging my location?
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.
All Things Digital's Ina Fried has also scored an interview with Steve Jobs, senior vice presidents Phil Schiller and Scott Forstall about the issue:
Steve, how active have you been in examining this issue over the past couple of weeks?
Jobs: It hasn’t been a couple of weeks. This all started last Wednesday and we put out our response this morning. It took us slightly less than a week. Scott and Phil and I have worked together over this last week, first to investigate the problem.
We’re an engineering-driven company. When people accuse us of things, the first thing we want to do is find out the truth. That took a certain amount of time to track all of these things down. And the accusations were coming day by day. By the time we had figured this all out, it took a few days. Then writing it up and trying to make it intelligible when this is a very high-tech topic took a few days. And here we are less than a week later.