Apple and Google respond to phone tracking furore

Google and, if the Internet is to be believed, Apple have responded to the phone-tracking furore, defending themselves vigorously.

Rory Reid
2 min read

Google and, if the Internet is to be believed, Apple have responded to the smart phone tracking furore, defending themselves against claims of secret Big Brothering.

The Internet was awash last week with angry smart phone owners seething at the news their beloved iPhone and Android devices are capable of logging their locations without consent and transmitting it back to base, sparking fears late-night trips to the inside leg clinic might become public knowledge.

Google's response to the situation was simply to remind us that all location sharing on Android is an opt-in by the user. "We provide users with notice and control over the collection, sharing and use of location in order to provide a better mobile experience on Android devices," it said in a statement. "Any location data that is sent back to Google location servers is anonymised and is not tied or traceable to a specific user."

The search behemoth also claimed that for those who opt in, its system retains only the 50 most recent mobile masts and 200 Wi-Fi networks seen, and that the data is kept in a form that's difficult to access.

Apple has yet to officially issue a response, but a reader of MacRumors claims Apple chief Steve Jobs replied directly to a complaint email sent to his personal email address.

"Could you please explain the necessity of the passive location-tracking tool embedded in my iPhone," read the email. "It's kind of unnerving knowing that my exact location is being recorded at all times. Maybe you could shed some light on this for me before I switch to a [Google Android] Droid. They don't track me."

"Oh yes they do," Jobs allegedly responded. "We don't track anyone. The info circulating around is false."

Jobs' apparent response, coupled with the fact Apple has, in the past, said users can turn off location data by disabling location services, may placate some, but we'd take the sentiment (and until validated by Apple, the statement itself) with a pinch of salt.

The iPhone actually continues to collect and store location information, however, even when location services are switched off, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Even if Jobs' email is legitimate, it won't be sufficient to ward off the hordes of smart phone users infuriated by these revelations. Several individuals in the US have already filed lawsuits alleging Apple has invaded their privacy and committed fraud, our sister site CNET News reports.

The US Congress, meanwhile, is set to hold a hearing on the issue on 10 May, according to Yahoo News, with both Google and Apple invited to come along and explain themselves.

We get the feeling this one could rumble on for quite some time. Grab some popcorn, stick your phone on aeroplane mode and stick around as it unfolds.