Ok, maybe we were a bit quick to dismiss the notion that Apple was collecting location data about iPhone users. Something about the self-righteous fury of the blogosphere had us in full apologist mode.
The Wall Street Journal called attention to the fact that Apple does indeed transmit GPS coordinates of iPhone users and nearby Wi-Fi networks back to itself every 12 hours. This data is used to build a map of hotspots so that geo-location apps can do a better job pinpointing users the next time they enable these services.
It is worth pointing out again, that the file found by O’Reilley researchers on Wednesday isn’t the smoking gun here. Apple sent a letter to Congress a year ago in which it discussed the location database it was building. At the time they noted users can opt out of this and that all the data is anonymousness.
The more detailed log of location being stored on each individual iPhone is not being sent back to Apple, or at least no one has found any evidence of this so far. The concern is that the information could be used as evidence in a criminal case or divorce court now that its public knowledge it has been tracking users every move.
Of course, Apple is not alone in wanting to create this kind of database. Google does it too. As Robert Vamosi, author of When Gadgets Betrays Us, points out, most phones add longitude and latitude data to image when you snap a photo. Upload that to a social network, and a savvy sleuth can come along and take and deduce location based on metadata attached to that photo.