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Reporters' Roundtable: The location-tracking dilemma

Apple, Google, Microsoft, TomTom, and other companies collect and store their users' location data in varying degrees. Why do they do this, and should you care?

Today we are talking about the fallout from the research reported on April 20 at the Where 2.0 conference that Apple iPhones and iPads keep detailed logs of their locations, and that this information is potentially viewable by Apple, the police, or hackers.

Roundup: Geotracking controversy homes in on iPhone

Since that story broke, it's been revealed that Google Android and Microsoft Windows 7 phones also log user location as well. In a related development, GPS maker TomTom was revealed to be sending location and speed data to police departments to enable them to install red-light cameras where they'll be most effective. That wouldn't be so bad, perhaps, if TomTom didn't also sell its users GPS map updates that included the locations of those cameras.

So location recording is in the news, and that's what we're talking about today. What's recording your data, why devices need this information, who's getting it, why you might care, and what you can do about it if you do.

Our guests are:

  • Declan McCullagh, who's been reporting on this issue for CNET News.
  • Ted Morgan, CEO of Skyhook Wireless. Ted's company is in the very business of determining location data on mobile devices, and his technology has been used by many manufacturers.
Now playing: Watch this: Reporters' Roundtable 74: The location tracking dilemma


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Some of our discussion points

The Issue in a nutshell. How it was discovered.

Why is this data so valuable.

Why it's a big deal. Why is this a surprise? Legitimate uses of this information

Congress getting involved.

Differences among Apple, Google, and Microsoft when it comes to collecting and transmitting smartphone location data.

The role of the carriers. Verizon putting warning Labels on Phones.

Police/court use of this data.

Ted, what safeguards does Skyhook have to keep this data safe?

Apple's statement. True, true enough, or a stretching of the truth? What about the patents for collecting and using this data?

TomTom. What's the issue here, and what does it mean for GPS navigation users?

Don't many modern autos also record this data? And aren't black-box recordings used by courts and insurance companies?

When it comes to location privacy, what do people have the right to expect from their mobile devices?

Next show will be on May 6. Follow me on Twitter for news on what's next on Reporters' Roundtable. E-mail with your ideas for shows! And, as always, don't forget to check out the site,, for show notes, links, and talkback.