Apple has released a 4.3.3 update to its iOS operating system with corrections to location tracking on the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. The changes could take some pressure off the company.
One change reduces the time that location information is retained from an indefinite period defined by a size limit to one week. The update also ends the automatic transfer of location information when a mobile device is synced with a Mac or PC. And when the Location Services setting is disabled, the location information is deleted.
Apple said it will encrypt the information in the next major version of iOS, expected before the end of the year. Version 4.3.3 is designed for the iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, iPad and iPad 2, and third- and fourth-generation iPod touches. The iPhone 3G and the Verizon Wireless CDMA iPhone 4 cannot accept the update.
After the location controversy arose last month, Apple said its tracking was not designed to follow users, but to improve location services by collecting data about cell towers and Wi-Fi hot spots. It said the location data file had mistakenly been made too large, and a bug caused it to continue storing data even if Location Services was disabled. The Wall Street Journal found that, even when an Apple device was turned off, the location tracking continued.
The news about secret location tracking wasn't well received. A congressional hearing has been scheduled for May 10, and Apple will participate.
Data for Jealous Spouses
The fact that the iPhone was tracking locations came to light last month in a report by security researchers that they had discovered a secret file that stored the information.
That data includes latitude and longitude coordinates, accompanied by a time stamp. This tracking mechanism, reported at the Where 2.0 conference in San Francisco, apparently began with iOS 4.
Pete Warden, one of the researchers, told news media that Apple "has made it possible for almost anybody" who could get access to a smartphone or computer to find out where users had been. The location/time stamp file was copied onto a computer when a mobile device synchronized with iTunes.
Warden and fellow researcher Alasdair Allan created an open-source application that maps the location information from the iPhone file, allowing a user to visually follow movements over a period of time. They noted that similar data is collected by cell-phone providers as operational data, but "it's kept behind a firewall" and requires a court order to be seen.
By making the file easily available, the researchers pointed out, Apple made it easy for, say, an investigator or a jealous spouse to obtain a user's location history. Interestingly, Apple touted location privacy during iOS 4's launch last year, including a requirement that location-aware apps obtain user permission before obtaining location data.
Posted: 2011-05-14 @ 10:36am PT
iOS 4.3.3 is ridiculous. Messed up my iPhone and my iPad.