Apple is collecting location data, but not YOUR location data

The iPhone 4 isn't watching you, it just likes to know where you are
The iPhone 4 isn't watching you, it just likes to know where you are

Apple has released an extensive Q&A about iOS 4's apparent gathering of location data and is adamant it is not tracking the location of your iPhone, rather "maintaining a database of Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers around your current location."

This is to help speed up finding your location when, for instance, you need to load up a map app.

"Calculating a phone's location using just GPS satellite data can take up to several minutes," said Apple.

"[The] iPhone can reduce this time to just a few seconds by using Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data to quickly find GPS satellites, and even triangulate its location using just Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data when GPS is not available (such as indoors or in basements)."

Location, location, location

According to Apple, this goes some way in explaining all the location data which can be taken from your iPhone – essentially it is not your own personal data but info that has been "crowd-sourced".

"This data is not the iPhone's location data—it 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," explained Apple.

"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 concludes with a heartfelt message about privacy, saying it is a big believer of putting the 'I' back into the iPhone.

"iPhone was the first to ask users to give their permission for each and every app that wanted to use location.

"Apple will continue to be one of the leaders in strengthening personal information security and privacy."

Sometime in the next few weeks Apple will be releasing an iOS software update to reduce the size of the crowd-sourced Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower database cached on the iPhone, stop backing up the cache anddelete the location-storing cache entirely when Location Services are turned off.

Whether the Q&A is an example of complete honesty from Apple or a case of baffling its users with techno-babble, remains to be seen but it's good to see Jobs and co aren't burying their collective heads in the sand about the location data issue, and just in time for the UK release of the white iPhone 4, too.

Marc Chacksfield

Marc Chacksfield is the Editor In Chief, at DC Thomson. He started out life as a movie writer for numerous (now defunct) magazines and soon found himself online - editing a gaggle of gadget sites, including TechRadar, Digital Camera World and Tom's Guide UK. At Shortlist you'll find him mostly writing about movies and tech, so no change there then.