Apple Explains Location Tracking At Senate Hearing

Findings reported by security researchers and WSJ regarding Apple’s devices tracking users location data lead to Senator Al Franken (D-MN) calling upon Apple to participate in a hearing with the Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law in order to discuss consumer privacy.

The hearing, as scheduled, took place earlier today and Apple’s VP of software technology, Guy L. “Bud” Tribble shared Apple’s view on privacy policy and location tracking.

Tribble reiterated points detailed in Apple’s FAQ on location tracking and said that Apple does not collect users personal information. He further added that the crowd-sourced location database cache was just used to allow devices to store information about nearby cell towers and WiFi hotspots to enable devices to quickly receive signal without relying on real time GPS data.

When Sen. Al Franken asked if the company would require app developers to commit to a fixed privacy policy Tribble said that current developer agreement does not require privacy policy and an addition wouldn’t be of much help. He instead said that iOS puts a purple color icon at the status bar when any app requests user location and a user at any time could block an app from requesting location in the settings menu.

Tribble acknowledged that the location data was being stored for far too long than required and that it was recognised as the bug. He said that the company takes pride is responding to issues promptly and issued a software update, iOS 4.3.3, to fix the bug last week.

One of the interesting revelation was that Apple conducts random audits on applications to make sure they comply with Apple’s policies.

The Apple executive also detailed how his company conducts random audits on applications to make sure they’re playing by the rules. He admitted that Apple does not audit every single one of its 350,000 iPhone applications, just like it would be impossible for the federal government to audit every single taxpayer. Apple also keeps an eye on blogs and its “active community” of application users for potential violations. If a violation is discovered and the issue cannot be resolved, applications will be removed within 24 hours and the developer will be notified.

In most cases, Tribble said, developers quickly correct the issue, as they want to keep their application available in the App Store.

Google’s Alan Davidson was also present for the senate hearing and defended Google’s privacy policies by saying that when a user downloads any application they are presented with a set of permissions they would need to grant to the application. He also noted that Google supports an open platform and thus prefers “hands-off approach” when comapred witn conducting audits like Apple.

[via AppleInsider]

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