Reps. Markey and Barton asked the company for details on how it collects and shares customers' location information. Apple explains customers always have to opt in to share their anonymized location through iOS.
Erica OggFormer Staff writer, CNET News
Erica Ogg is a CNET News reporter who covers Apple, HP, Dell, and other PC makers, as well as the consumer electronics industry. She's also one of the hosts of CNET News' Daily Podcast. In her non-work life, she's a history geek, a loyal Dodgers fan, and a mac-and-cheese connoisseur.
Apple has provided an unusually detailed accounting of how it handles customers' location information and privacy, following a query sent to the company by two Congressmen.
The iPhone maker reiterated in a letter published Monday that it does not share location information with outside parties without a customer's permission. If customers agree to use location-based applications, like Foursquare or Twitter or iAds, location information is collected by Apple in a way that does not identify the user.
Soon after Reps. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas)sent a letter to Apple CEO Steve Jobsexpressing their concerns over the additions to the policy and asking for answers regarding reports that Apple is gathering location information on its customers and sharing it with third parties.
As requested by the Congressmen, Apple answered by July 12. On Monday, the offices of Markey and Barton, the co-chairmen of the House Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus, released the full text of Apple's response. The full text is embedded below.
"When a customer's device sends Wi-Fi, cell tower, GPS, or diagnostic location information to Apple, it does not include any information identifying the particular device or user," Sewell wrote. In the case of iAd, Apple's new iOS-based advertising program, a user's latitude and longitude coordinates are collected anonymously and immediately converted to a five-digit ZIP code. The lat/long info is not retained, and the iAd server does not match ZIP code info with a particular device or user, according to Apple. Advertisers never see the ZIP code info.
Apple does keep it for six months "to administer and improve the iAd network." After six months the company aggregates the info "for administrative purposes."
Reps. Markey and Barton sounded mostly satisfied by Apple's response. "Apple's responses provided additional information about how it uses location data and the ability of consumers to exercise control over a variety of features on Apple's products, and I appreciate the company's response," Markey said in a statement, and added that he would "continue to closely monitor this issue."
Added Barton: "While I applaud Apple for responding to our questions, I remain concerned about privacy policies that run on for pages and pages. I hope every business that uses information for advertising and marketing purposes will work toward more transparency and complete disclosure about their practices, as well as robust security for the information they hold."