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Blog Bytes: When 'Tracking' Isn't Really 'Tracking' (According to Apple)

Tech watchers and armchair legal eagles raked Apple over the coals this week over reports that the company keeps track of customers' locations through its iPhone.

In particular, bloggers have accused Apple of doublespeak when it denied the tracking allegations. As Roger Kay at Forbes' Endpoint Analysis blog noted:

Right off it [Apple] says, "Apple is not tracking the location of your iPhone." But goes on in subsequent paragraphs to talk about why the company logs location information on the phone. Literally standing logic on its head, Apple calls black white by stating, "The iPhone is not logging your location. Rather, it's maintaining a database of Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers around [emphasis Kay's] your current location..."

Say, wuhhh?

ZDNet U.K. blogger Rupert Goodwins felt some cognitive whiplash, too:

When Steve Jobs says "We haven't been tracking anybody's location" at the same time that the web was filling up with remarkably detailed maps tracking people's location, Chico Marx applies: who ya gonna believe, me or your own eyes?

BNET's Erik Sherman acknowledged that Apple isn't the only company to have ever played fast and loose with consumer privacy, but its spinning of the story merits a new term -- the Apple "reality distortion field":

Just what did Apple, Google, and Microsoft think would happen when they decided to track locations? That no one outside of their companies had the skills or intelligence to notice?

At least Google and Microsoft have admitted they were tracking. Apple, on the other hand, indulges itself in solipsistic reality distortion, assuming that spin will fix all.

Apple's verbal gymnastics notwithstanding, Bob Sullivan at the Red Tape Chronicles blog thinks consumer privacy -- especially in the age of 24/7 connectivity -- should be entrusted to lawmakers, not companies:

Apple may now be shrinking the time it stores location data from months to seven days, but it's doing so out of the goodness of its heart. It could reverse this decision -- or another bug could appear that causes longer-term storage again. The only consequence would be another embarrassing news story.

That's lunacy. Laws -- not promises -- are needed to codify what location information can be used for, and how long it can be stored. 

But still more commenters, including Tom Simonite at MIT's Technology Review blog, think resistance is mostly futile:

Even were phones to become able to give us all the mapping and location-aware apps we've come to use without such caching, your phone would still be tracked. Cellular networks need to know which towers their subscribers connect to, making it possible for them to provide detail data on the movement of even the most basic models.

RCP's Lee Pender took the argument a step further. It isn't just that there are as many intrusions into our privacy as there are consumer gadgets. It's that we like our consumer gadgets too much to do anything about it:

The point is that while we might not like how much the creators of these operating systems know about us, we're not going to ditch all those cool apps and all that nifty functionality just because we're worried that Apple might be able to track us stopping by the bar on the way home from work when we're supposed to be rushing home to meet the in-laws.

Share your thoughts on Apple's iPhone tracking (or is it?) controversy by leaving a comment below.

About the Author

Gladys Rama is the senior site producer for Redmondmag.com, RCPmag.com and MCPmag.com.