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Apple Defends Location-Based Info Collection Policy

Apple says it is not sharing any consumer location information from iPhones or iPads with service provider AT&T, with which it has an exclusive deal, or with other telecommunications carriers.Apple says it has been collecting location-based data, including Wi-Fi access point data, since January 2008, but that it does not include any personally identifying information linking it to a particular device or user.

Apple's explanation came in a letter to legislatorsin response to their concerns over access to location-based information.   

That issue drew a spotlight after Google said it had accidently been collecting personal data as part of its collecting of Wi-Fi data for its information-collection services.  

Apple says that customers can easily turn off its location-based information collection with a toggle on/off switch, that users are always informed of the first time an application or Website requests location-based information an iPhone, iPod, iPad or computer can provide,and that customers can even deny access to some individual applications seeking location-based info even if the general setting is toggled to on. Those services include applications to locate driving destinations, friends, or even missing phones.  

Toggling the general location-based option to off also prevents targeted advertising through Apple's iAD mobile ad network, which might target ads from area stores in the vicinity of someone looking for aplace to eat, or target an ad for an action movie DVD to someone who has just downloaded a similar movie on their phone.  

Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Tex.),co-chairs of the House Privacy Caucus, fired off the letter last month to Appleexec Steve Jobs in response to reports that it has changed its privacy policy to require users of Apple products like iPads and iPhones to allow the company to collect and share data on their "precise geographic locations."

They are concerned in part because of the limited ability of Apple product users to opt out of revisions in its terms and conditions that include agreeing to the sharing. They are the same legislators who sought information from Google on the collection of geographic datafrom unsecured Wi-Fi nets.

"Consumer consent is the key to assessing the adequacy of privacy protections, and Apple's responses provide examples of how consumers can grant or withhold consent in their usage of Apple products," saidMarkey in a statement accompanying the release of the letter. "I appreciate the company's response." But he added that he will "continue to closely monitor this issue to ensure that consumers are empowered to keep their personal information private, if they choose, while still enjoying the benefits that accompany continuously evolving technological innovations." 

Barton was a little less sanguine. "While Iapplaud Apple for responding to our questions, I remain concerned about privacy policies that run on for pages and pages," he said. "I hope every business that uses information for advertising and marketing purposes will work toward more transparency and complete disclosure about their practices, as well as robust security for the information they hold."