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April 21, 2011

Lawmakers Ask Apple to Respond to iPhone Tracking Allegations


A number of U.S. politicians and foreign governments are demanding that Apple (News - Alert) explain why its iOS4 operating system is secretly storing the location history of its users.

The calls for transparency come one day after two security researchers, Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden, released a report showing that iPhone (News - Alert) and iPad 3G devices have been recording unencrypted logs of users' longitude and latitude coordinates, as well as the time of day associated with those locations, according to Politico.

"We're not sure why Apple is gathering this data, but it's clearly intentional, as the database is being restored across backups, and even device migrations," the pair wrote in a Wednesday post first published to O'Reilly Radar.

The researchers' findings have led to a firestorm of criticism and heated inquiries from several high profile lawmakers, including Democratic Senator Al Franken and Massachusetts Representative Ed Markey.

"The existence of this information -- stored in an unencrypted format -- raises serious privacy concerns," Franken wrote in his letter to Apple CEO Steve Jobs (News - Alert). "Anyone who gains access to this single file could likely determine the location of the user's home, the businesses he frequents, the doctors he visits, the schools his children attend, and the trips he has taken -- over the past months, or even a year."

Franken went on to list nine separate questions that he would like Jobs to answer, including why the tech giant is compiling the data, why it is unprotected and to whom the information has been disclosed. Franken also directly asked Jobs if he believes the conduct is permissible under the terms of Apple's own privacy policy.

Markey, who co-chairs the House Bipartisan Privacy Caucus, issued a separate letter to Jobs in which he asks Apple's longtime chief executive if the company developed the feature intentionally and if it ever notified users that their location data was being compiled. Markey has also questioned whether Apple has violated Section 222 of the Communications Act, which requires "express prior customer authorization for the use, disclosure of, or access to the customer's location information for commercial purposes."

In addition, the Federal Communications Commission told Politico that it is looking into the report. Germany's consumer protection ministry also issued a statement asking Apple to reveal details regarding the tracking feature. Apple has yet to respond to the report or the following inquiries.




Beecher Tuttle is a TMCnet contributor. He has extensive experience writing and editing for print publications and online news websites. He has specialized in a variety of industries, including health care technology, politics and education. To read more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Jennifer Russell

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