A new series of emails were made public on Monday as a result of Skyhook Wireless’ lawsuit claiming Google interfered with a contract the LBS company had in place with cell phone maker Motorola Mobility. The emails, which were sent to and from numerous top executives at Google including CEO Larry Page and SVP of Mobile Andy Rubin, detail the company’s shock at losing out to Skyhook. The internal emails also reveal Google’s admission that Skyhook’s location product is better and more accurate than its solutions, and scratch the tip of the iceberg regarding how Google seemingly used its muscle to squash Motorola’s deal with Skyhook. Hit the break for screen shots of a few of the emails, and hit read link for a collection of what may be the most interesting emails of the bunch. More →
A lawsuit has been filed against Apple, Pandora, and The Weather Channel in the U.S. District Court of Puerto Rico that alleges Apple “intentionally [intercepts] personally identifying information.” The plaintiff, Lymaris M. Rivera Diaz, is charging Apple with unfair trade practices, abuse and fraud, and he believes that Apple shares the iPhone’s unique ID, as well as personal location information, with third party developers such as The Weather Channel and Pandora. Apple’s vice president of software technology, Bud Tribble, testified before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law on Tuesday, and said “Apple does not track users’ locations,” and that the Cupertino-based company has no plans to do so. This is the second lawsuit filed against Apple in regards to the location tracking scandal; The first was filed in Tampa, Florida late last month. More →
You can’t make 500 million friends without launching malicious smear campaigns against a few enemies
Google might be “evil” according to some, but we’ve never heard of the company launching a stealth smear campaign against one of its competitors in an effort to influence the media. That is what Facebook is said to have confirmed doing recently and, if true, the revelation could leave a sizable blemish on Facebook’s already tarnished public image. The Daily Beast on Thursday reports that Facebook hired PR firm Burson-Marsteller to attempt to persuade writers at several publications to publish Google-bashing pieces about the Internet giant’s “Social Circle” product invading users’ privacy. Privacy? How ironic. The campaign, shamefully led by two former journalists, backfired when a blogger Burson contacted decided to publish the firm’s emails. There is silver lining in all this, however: if Facebook is threatened enough that it is trying to pull off a catty stunt like this, Google might actually have a social offering worthy of Facebook’s, and our, attention. More →
Google and Apple testified before the Senate on Tuesday, where both firms were grilled on collecting location information from mobile phones. During the hearing, Senator Al Franken was particularly vocal on the issue. “My wireless companies, Apple and Google, and my apps, all get my location or something very close to it,” Senator Franken said. “We need to address this issue now, as mobile devices are only going to get more popular.” We covered Apple’s response on Tuesday, during which Apple’s vice president of software technology, Bud Tribble, said that “Apple does not track users’ locations,” and that the firm never plans to do so. However, Franken was also concerned that Apple and Google have done little to police third-party applications that are collecting and transmitting location data, and suggested that both companies require developers to alert users of their specific privacy policies. Trimble said Apple already does this, but it has never tossed an application for violating that rule. Google’s director of public policy, Alan Davidson, said Google would consider adding the option. According to The Wall Street Journal, Jessica Rich, the deputy director of the Federal Trade Commission’s consumer-protection bureau said that, despite both firms saying they don’t collect user data, “there’s a lot [the FTC] can do… to challenge,” those claims. More →
While testifying before the U.S. Congress today, Apple’s vice president of software technology, Bud Tribble, tried to clarify concerns that Apple had been tracking owners of its iPhone and iPad Wi-Fi + 3G. Apple has said in the past that it does not track its users and it also recently issued iOS 4.3.3, which reduces and encrypts the crowd-sourced location database cache, but Tribble explained the story in a bit more detail:
We do not share customer information with third parties without our customers’ explicit consent. Apple does not track users’ locations. Apple has never done so and has no plans to do so. An Apple device does not send to Apply any specific information associated with a user. The purpose of the cache is to allow the device to more quickly and reliably respond to location requests. Apple was never tracking an individual user’s location. The data seen on the iPhone was not the location past or present of the iPhone, but the location of cell towers surrounding the phone. Although the cache was not encrypted, it was protected from other apps on the phone.
According to 9to5 Mac, Tribble also explained to the U.S. Congress that, as we know, the iPhone and 3G iPad are able to determine a user’s location using triangulation between nearby Wi-Fi hotspots or cell phone towers. More →
Last week, the public was up in arms after O’Reilly revealed that Apple was recording and storing the location of its iPad and iPhone users. Not long after that, The Wall Street Journal reported that Google was also tracking and storing the locations of Android users. Even though Google has said all location sharing is opt-in and that all location data is anonymized, Bloomberg is reporting that two Oakland County Michigan residents have filed a lawsuit against Google with the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Detroit. The class-action suit asks Google to stop saving smartphone location data, and it also seeks $50 million in damages. The plaintiffs argue that the level at which Google tracks their AT&T HTC Inspire 4G phones would ordinarily require a court-ordered warrant. The case is “Julie Brown v. Google 11-11867, U.S. District, Eastern District of Michigan (Detroit),” but we’re not so sure this will end in the favor of the plaintiffs — after all, they did give Google permission. More →
In an effort to be “clear and transparent” with its customers and the government, Verizon Wireless has sent a letter to Congress detailing plans on how it will better inform consumers about location data collection on their smartphones. The wireless carrier will soon apply a removable stickers to its devices with the following warning:
“This device is capable of determining its (and your) physical, geographical, location adn can associate location data with other customer information. To limit access to location information by others, refer to the User Guide for Location settings and be cautious when downloading, accessing, or using applications and services.”
Verizon Wireless will also issue alerts more clearly in its V CAST applications, some of which can be used to track family members or friends voluntarily. It confirmed that it does not sell or rent out personal user information, and that user habits are only used for internal marketing purposes. Verizon says it only collects location data for “various service and operational purposes,” and that it uses the data to ensure customers have solid call and data quality. Hit the jump for a full PDF of Verizon’s letter to Congress. More →
Included in Apple’s “Q&A on Location Data” press release this morning was a rare and concrete statement that pointed to a future project the company is working on. “Apple is now collecting anonymous traffic data to build a crowd-sourced traffic database with the goal of providing iPhone users an improved traffic service in the next couple of years,” reads the release. Currently, iOS offers its users traffic-data through the bundled Google Maps application. It is unclear whether Apple is collecting this information to supplement the aforementioned offering, or — as rumors suggest — to build a new application that is less reliant on Google. Either way, it is an unusual statement from the Cupertino-based company about a future service. More →
Apple has finally broken its week-long silence over the location-tracking database scandal surrounding iPhones and 3G iPads running iOS 4 and higher. The company states that it never has, and never plans to, track users’ iDevices, and that the purpose of the database file in question — consolidated.db — is to “help your iPhone rapidly and accurately calculate its location when requested.” The company noted that a software update will limit the size of the location file and be available in the next few weeks — the next major iOS release will add a layer of encryption to the file. Apple’s full statement is after the break. Have a look and let us know what you think. More →
Might as well let other major mobile operating system manufacturers in on the location-tracking scandal fun, no? While Apple, and to a much lesser extent Google, have come under fire for their phone location storage practices, other major OS manufacturers have been silent. We’re not sure being the “squeaky wheel” would pay dividends in this instance. That hasn’t stopped the media from asking, however, and CNET posed the question to Microsoft: what do you track?
“Microsoft says its operating system transmits the MAC address of the Wi-Fi access point (but not the name), signal strength, a randomly generated unique device ID retained for an unspecified limited period of time, and, if GPS is turned on, the precise location and direction and speed of travel,” writes CNET. “That happens when the ‘application or user makes a request for location information,’ the company says.”
CNET has a laundry list of questions for Microsoft that remain unanswered. The current location brouhaha now has the attention of the courts and some distinguished members of the United States Congress — so we’re betting most major mobile operating system manufacturers will be answering questions in an official capacity in the near future. More →
The recent rediscovery that Apple’s iPhone is tracking and storing users’ locations — after users all agreed to let Apple track, store and use their locations, of course — has caused quite an uproar. Unlike the last time this was discovered, the ordeal continues to make news nearly a week later instead of being forgotten immediately. In this latest round of outrage, The Wall Street Journal has revealed that Apple’s iPhone continues to collect and store users’ locations even when location services are disabled. The Journal believes that the data is collected using data from cell towers and Wi-Fi hotspots as the iPhone communicates with them. This, too, is well within Apple’s rights — and the rights of other cell phone makers — but the revelation is still likely to result in a new round of chatter. Additional reports reveal that government bodies in several countries including South Korea, France and Germany are investigating Apple’s location-tracking practices, and they will likely make formal inquiries once they have enough information t0 do so. More →
In what is purported to be an email exchange with Apple CEO Steve Jobs, a MacRumors reader sent in the following:
Could you please explain the necessity of the passive location-tracking tool embedded in my iPhone? 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 Droid. They don’t track me.
A: Oh yes they do. We don’t track anyone. The info circulating around is false.
Sent from my iPhone
What’s not clear is whether or not Jobs was indicating that stored location data isn’t actually being sent back to Apple, and is instead only stored locally on the device and in iOS backup files created by iTunes. What is clear according to Jobs, however, is that Android is tracking customer’s location (and more) right out of the box. There are reports that the location recording issue in iOS 4 will be fixed in a software update and was a bug as opposed to a deliberate attempt to collect data. More →