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Apple advises users how location data can be used

Privacy policy update notifies users that using location-based services means your location will be shared.

Gowalla iPhone
Apple wants you to know that when you use location-based services, like Gowalla, your location will be shared. Gowalla

Apple updated its privacy policy to underscore that when you use location-based services on your iOS device, Apple will be sharing your location with that service.

The update, which came on Monday, added this to the company's overall privacy policy:

To provide location-based services on Apple products, 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. This location data is collected anonymously in a form that does not personally identify you and is used by Apple and our partners and licensees to provide and improve location-based products and services. For example, we may share geographic location with application providers when you opt in to their location services.

Some location-based services offered by Apple, such as the MobileMe "Find My iPhone" feature, require your personal information for the feature to work.

In other words, if you want to use, say, Foursquare, an application that allows users to "check in" to places and share that location with friends, Apple is making sure you know that it will be sharing your location with Foursquare for the app to do what it is designed to do.

Google's policy on Android is worded almost exactly the same:

Google offers location-enabled services, such as Google Maps for mobile. If you use those services, Google may receive information about your actual location (such as GPS signals sent by a mobile device) or information that can be used to approximate a location (such as a cell ID).

Apple's policy update appears to be causing a small bit of alarm because of the phrase "real-time geographic location of your Apple computer or device," though Apple is clear about saying that the location data is collected in a way that does not identify the person who owns the device and that it is used expressly "to provide location-based services."

We've followed up with Apple to find out which partners and licensees are allowed to collect that data, and what it means when those partners "share" that data. If the company gets back to us, we'll update this post accordingly.

Apple has been more vocal lately about privacy when it comes to location, which could have prompted the update to the policy. Earlier this month, CEO Steve Jobs addressed this same topicwhen he was interviewed at the D: All Things Digital conference. He said Apple wants customers to always have to opt-in when they are sharing their location.

"We worry a lot about location in phones," Jobs said. "We have rejected a lot of apps that want to take your personal data and suck it up into the cloud. A lot of people in the Valley think we are really old-fashioned about that, and maybe we are. Privacy means people know what they are signing up for in plain English...Some people want to share more data. Ask them. Ask them every time. Let them know precisely what you are going to do with their data."