In the press release, Apple pointed out that it is not tracking the location of iPhone and iPad owners; rather, the devices store data based on locations of Wi-Fi hot spots and cell towers within range. However, although towers may be miles away, hot spots are mere feet away. In order for location-based tools to work, they must be accurate.
“This all demonstrates the complexity of privacy protection with locational services,” Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Information Privacy Center, told The New York Times in an e-mail. “Apple is moving in the right direction, but there is more that needs to be done.”
In order to provide location-based information quickly, the devices must be able to use Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers when GPS is not available, or when GPS calculations take several minutes. The problem, as security researchers pointed out last week, is when the devices store this data over long periods of time.
The location data “is a subset (cache) of the crowd-sourced Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower database which is downloaded from Apple into the iPhone to assist the iPhone in rapidly and accurately calculating location. The reason the iPhone stores so much data is a bug we uncovered and plan to fix shortly … We don’t think the iPhone needs to store more than seven days of this data,” Apple stated in the press release.
In addition, the devices should not continue updating their Wi-Fi and cell tower data when their Location Services are turned off, according to Apple. “This is a bug, which we plan to fix shortly.”
The free iOS software update will be released in the next few weeks. According to Apple, the update will: reduce the size of crowd-sourced Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower database cached on the iPhone; cease backing up the cache; and delete the cache completely when Location Services is turned off.