Apple defends location data collection policies

July 20, 2010 in GPS TRACKING APPS,GTXCORP,LOCiMOBILE | Comments (0)

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Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) responded to a congressional probe into its location data collection policies, contending its geo-specific services exist to enhance the user experience and emphasizing that it only activates location solutions upon receiving consumer consent. In a 13-page letter released Monday by Reps. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe L. Barton (R-Texas), Apple general counsel and senior vice president of legal and government affairs Bruce Sewell writes “Apple collects location data for only one purpose–to enhance and improve the services we can offer to our customers,” stating the company does not share consumer location information collected via iPhones and iPads with AT&T or other partners. “Apple is committed to giving our customers clear notice and control over their information, and we believe our products do this in a simple and elegant way,” Sewell states. “We share [legislators’] concerns about the collection and misuse of location data.”

 According to Sewell, Apple began offering location-based solutions in January 2008, with services now extending across devices including the iPhone, iPad, iPod touch and Mac computers running Snow Leopard–the company notes that beginning with the April 2010 release of iPhone OS 3.2, it relies on its own databases to provide location-based services and for diagnostic services. “Apple has always provided its customers with the ability to control the location-based service capabilities on their devices,” Sewell explains. “In fact, Apple now provides customers even greater control over such capabilities for devices running the current version of Apple’s mobile operating system–iOS 4.” Controls include a single On/Off toggle switch to disable all location-based service capabilities, express consumer consent when an application or website first requests location-specific data, iOS permissions to identify individual apps that cannot access location information even if the global LBS setting is toggled to “On,” and an arrow icon alerting iOS 4 users when an app users geo-specific information.

 Sewell also clarified data collection protocols specific to Apple’s new iAd mobile advertising network, introduced earlier this month. “Customers can receive advertising that relates to their interests (‘interest-based advertising’) and/or their location (‘location-bsed advertising’),” he writes. “For example, a customer who purchased an action movie on iTunes may receive advertising regarding a new action being released in the theaters or on DVD. A customer searching for nearby restaurants may receive advertising for stores in the area.” Sewell adds that Apple does not share any interest-based or location-based data about individual customers with advertisers; the company retains a record of each ad sent to a particular device in a separate iAd database, accessible only by Apple, to guarantee consumers do not receive overly repetitive or duplicate ads. In the event an advertiser wishes to provide more specific information based on user location, a dialogue box will give the consumer the choice whether to transmit their latitude/longitude coordinates–Apple notes that information is not provided to the advertiser.

 Apple revised its consumer privacy policy in late June to authorize the collection and sharing of “precise location data” from devices like the iPhone and iPad. Markey and Barton, co-chairmen of the House Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus, quickly sent a letter to Apple CEO Steve Jobs asking for additional clarification: “Given the limited ability of Apple users to opt out of the revised policy and still be able to take advantage of the features of their Apple products, we are concerned about the impact the collection of such data could have on the privacy of Apple’s customers,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter. On Monday, Markey and Barton thanked Apple for its explanation, but expressed lingering concern over the rise of location data collection: “The new challenges and concerns that present themselves with the collection and use of location-based information are particularly disconcerting,” Barton said in a statement. “While I applaud Apple for responding to our questions, I remain concerned about privacy policies that run on for pages and pages.”

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