Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) gave Apple a shout-out Wednesday
for making some changes to its geolocation data regime after he and
others raised questions about the collection, storage, and security of that
information, as well as what users did and didn't know about it.
Apple's changes were signaled in a blog posting
and came after reports it was archiving geolocation data for up to a year
and that information was unencrypted, which Markey followed up with a letter to
Apple founder Steve Jobs expressing his concerns.
Apple said it was tracking wi-fi hot spots and cell
towers to provide better location information, was not tracking or logging the
location of iPhones, and was using anonymized info that could not identify
the source of the data. But it conceded that logging that info for a year was a
mistake-- a bug it said it was fixing--and took blame for what it said was
"misinformation" that stemmed from its failure " to provide
enough information about the issue to date."
Apple also said it was a glitch that kept some iPhones
collecting that hot spot and cell tower data after location services had been
That said, Apple also said Wednesday that within the next
few weeks it will issue a software patch to reduce the size of the
crowd-sourced Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower database cached on the iPhone,"
will stop backing up that cache when a phone is synced to a computer, and will
delete the cache when the location services are turned off. The cache will also
now be encrypted.
Markey praised the moves, but said he still had concerns
about the use of geolocation info for targeted advertising and would still
be expecting an answer to his letter. In its blog posting, Apple said
its iAds uses location info to target ads, say, locating the nearest
Target, but said that third-party info sharing is only after a users gives
permission for each app and each add that wants to make use of that info.
Markey said that "raises questions about the use of
location information for targeted advertising to iPhone users," and
promised to follow up with Apple for "clarification."
Markey is co-chair of the bipartisan House privacy caucus and has called on Congress to investigate the location data issue more broadly.
On the other side of the aisle, Senator Al Franken
(D-Miss.), chair of a new Judiciary privacy subcommittee, has scheduled a May10 hearing ("Protecting Mobile Privacy: Your Smart Phones, Tablets, Cell
Phones and Your Privacy." ), the subcommittee's first, on
mobile broadband privacy issues, prompted in part by the
Apple geolocation flap. He too, wrote jobs with some questions he wanted
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Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.