Over the last week, I’ve seen headlines, in many blogs and mainstream news outlets, about how the Apple iPhone and iPad are keeping a record of their general position stored in a database on the device. Apparently this data (anonymized) is also sent to Apple on a weekly basis. To a lesser extent Google’s Android OS has been dragged into this fracas as well, the main difference is that Android only keeps stored the last 50 positions on the device. Today, I’ve seen in a few news items, that Window’s phone 7, is also transmitting data to Microsoft about the phones location but unlike Apple IOS and Google Android no data is being retained on the device itself. I’m not going to get into any details of how and what is being tracked as that’s not the purpose of this post but, If you do a Google search, you’ll be able to find more details on how and what data is being stored.
With several governments around the world demanding explanations from these companies and US Lawmakers making noise about congressional hearings into the recording and transmitting of positional information, this issue is looking to become a major headache for all concerned.
My take on the entire thing is “So what”. Anyone who is using one of these devices with any sort of location aware applications should reasonably expect some sort of position tracking being performed. Were their oversights on the part of Apple as to how they stored the data? Yes there were. Apple could have made sure that any data stored on the phone was encrypted and they could have informed their customers up front that the devices position was being tracked in order to provide quicker access to location based information. It’s an oversight on Apples part, just let them fix it and get on with providing their customers with the best product that they can.
I’ve seen posts about how the police would be and already have used the stored data to find out the location of a suspect at a given time but, in my opinion, all that proves is that the device was there at that time. Just because you own the device, doesn’t mean that you had it in your possession at the point in time that the police are interested in. Anyway, it’s a two way street. If the police can use positional data to say that you were in a give area at a give time, you can use the data to say that you were not in a given area at a given time. So, being that I’m not involved in any activities that I need worry about anyone knowing about, if ever questioned by the police, I’d tell them where I was anyway. In that case, I’d like to have positional data from my phone to back up my statement.
Now, onto the fact that your phones position could be and is sold to third parties. Again I say, “So What”. Do some people really think that the free location based services provided by Apple, Google, or Microsoft were being provided out of the goodness of their heart? These are corporations that are responsible to their share holders and are not providing this service without expecting to make some sort of profit from it. If, I’m going to have to put up with adds on some of the websites that I visit, they might as well be pertinent to my current location. Who knows, there might even be an advertisement that I would take an interest in.
All that leaves for any issues with position tracking is unscrupulous people being able to get at your devices positional information (or any data for that matter). This is where, in my opinion, we all have a reason and a duty to be concerned. If the data on your smartphone were to fall into the wrong hands, who knows what they could do with it. Rest assured though, that whatever it is, it’s not going to be anything pleasant for the person who’s data they managed to get their hands on. I would expect that in the future Apple, Google, and Microsoft will start putting more effort into securing personal data that is contained on and obtained through your smartphone.
What is your opinion on having your phones position tracked?