Apple accesses your geolocation data whether you like it or not

As Apple's new iPhone iOS 4 rolls out across the globe, it appears the company will be keeping geo-location data about where you've taken photographs -- and you don't have a choice

In a change to its privacy policy, Apple has given itself and third-party companies the right to collect what it calls "anonymous location data". Anyone using iTunes has to sign up to these terms, but the change most obviously affects iPhone and iPad users, whose devices are constantly aware of their place in the world.

The policy says, "Apple and our partners and licensees may collect, use, and share precise location data, including the real-time geographic location of your Apple computer or device."

It goes on to point out that this data is anonymous, but anyone with access to it could potentially work out locations such as your home or place of work, based on how many photos you take in a specific area, for example. And such things always originate from a specific IP address, which means they're never truly anonymous.

In his 1983 keynote speech, Steve Jobs debuted the now famous '1984' advert where Apple rebels against an omniscient overseer. Now, it seems, the company will have access to every location you've ever taken a photo on your iPhone. This data is historical too, so photos taken using older versions of iPhone OS will contain location information that Apple can collect. Since the iOS 4 update, iPhone users have been able to see where they took every photo on a map -- an interesting and useful application of this data.

But the company also targets users with "relevant ads" using cookies. You can opt out of the tracking part of this by visiting oo.apple.com. This will prevent the company from collecting data about your browsing habits and using it to sell you products within apps that use the iAds system.

Apple is keen to point out that this will reduce the relevance of adverts to the user. While we're touched by its concern, we can't shake the notion that it's not really all that worried about its customers' user experience or privacy at all, and is more focused on delivering valuable targeted adverts.

Refusing to accept these terms -- even if you don't yet own an iPhone or iPad -- means you won't be able to download iTunes, preventing you from even using a non-location aware device such as an iPod shuffle. Perhaps Apple's new slogan should be "Like it, or lump it." 

 

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