Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) wants answers. Security researchers Wednesday revealed the existence of a file on iPhones and on their computer backups that logs detailed cell phone triangulation data — and has ever since iOS 4 was released last summer. The information is stored unencrypted by default, and is simple to access. That announcement led Franken to fire off a two-page letter (PDF), asking nine pointed questions of Apple CEO Steve Jobs.

Franken first outlines scenarios in which the release of this data could pose a problem. “Anyone who gains access to this single file could likely determine the location of the user’s home, the businesses he frequents, the doctors he visits, the schools his children attend, and the trips he has taken over the past months or even a year,” he writes. Which raises the obvious question: how would an attacker get access to the data?

1. Why does Apple collect and compile this location data? Why did Apple choose to initiate tracking this data in its iOS 4 operating system?
2. Does Apple collect and compile this location data for laptops?
3. How is this data generated? (GPS, cell tower triangulation, Wi-Fi triangulation, etc.)
4. How frequently is a user’s location recorded? What triggers the creation of a record of someone’s location?
5. How precise is this location data? Can it track the users location to 50 m, 100 m, etc.?
6. Why is this data not encrypted? What steps will Apple take to encrypt the data?
7. Why were Apple consumers never affirmatively informed of the collection and retention of their location data in this manner? Why did Apple not seek affirmative consent before doing so?
8. Does Apple believe that this conduct is permissible under the terms of its privacy policy?
9. To whom, if anyone, including Apple, has this data been disclosed? When and why were these disclosures made?

I like Al Franken. As for Apple and today’s rating as least environmentally friendly status, wait, that can’t be true, since Al Gore is on Apple’s Board of Directors. So why do Liberals love this company so much?

  1. deowll says:

    #3 How does logging a years worth of tracking data help locate a stolen or miss placed phone? In order to locate a stolen or misplaced phone you want to know where the phone is _now_; not where it was six months ago.

    The only reason for logging the data is to learn more about the person being tracked.

    I agree with another poster. Apple’s environmental rating is just an attempt at extortion. Of course iphones and ipads don’t have removable batteries. You are supposed to trash them after their ~500 charges are used up.

  2. The Pirate says:

    … and by another.

  3. jbenson2 says:

    McCullough – you got snookered!

    This information have been in the iPhone all along, but in the latest revision, it got moved to a different location.

  4. jbenson2 says:

    Al Franken is striving to reach the same heights that our former Governor Jesse “The Body” Ventura hit. I’ll give Franken a couple more years before he starts ranting that Bush brought down the Twin Towers.

  5. McCullough says:

    #38. jbenson- you got snookered!

    I’ll let you wallow in that one.

  6. foobar says:

    The iOS Forensics Book wrote about this over a year ago. Android does the same thing. Apple has screwed up by keeping the data too long (Android purges old data) and leaving an unencrypted sqlite file on your hard drive.

    Franken is opening up a can of worms here. Most people don’t realize that Telcos track and record your location – they need it mainly for billing (e.g. roaming) and quality of service checks. They often hang onto this data for a long, long time. Data is collected on all of us whenever we are networked – it just surprises people when they find out about it.

    Also, this is Apple so the story is 20 times bigger than an Android or Microsoft fuck up.

  7. Animby - just phoning it in says:

    Wait – isn’t Jobs still on sick leave off dying some place? Shouldn’t Al have addressed his letter to someone who’s actually on the job?

    “WiFi triangulation”???

  8. Mr. Ed - the Imitation (accept no special original) says:

    Alphie knows what an iPhone is? OOOwweeee!!! Gawd must have wrote it is OK in Romans. I know we get lots of roamin’ charges on our phone.

  9. BubbaRay says:

    I needed a tablet for biz, right now. Samsung’s is too small. Motorola’s Xoom sucks, it’s a few updates short of a smart phone. Guess what that leaves? Another stupid iOS device that requires the painful and hated iTunes for a sync, programmed by morons that never heard of a GUI. And, of course, it has the same location logging crud as the iPhool -er- Phone.

    Let’s see, HP’s CEO is flat fired ’cause there’s no tablet in the works. Nobody else has one worth the money. If someone releases a real android iPad2 competitor to whack Jobs in the bottom line, I’ll buy one. Immediately. Logging or not.

    [HP Slate vs. iPad – editor]

  10. jbenson2 says:

    #39 McCullough

    Yes, I admit we got snookered by Franken.

    Will you admit that you got snookered by the Apple Location fever that turned into yesterday’s news?

  11. ChuckM says:

    Gotta love that the CAN-SPAM act exists… yet a company can “passively” collect your physical location without disclosing, or more importantly, conscent… oh wait, it’s in the 1000 page EULA? oh okay… oh, it’s in the 1000 privacy statement? oh okay… if only the people had the powers of big corporations…

    I wish there was a sticker you could put on your driver side window… with small print on it, releasing the driver of any wrong doing should an officer request the driver to roll down the window… doing so implies conscent and acceptance of the terms of the agreement.

  12. Dallas says:

    Franken is arguably in the top 5 of the smartest Congressmen we have, certaintly one of the most articulate. Kudos to him for taking Apple to the woodshed to inquire on privacy violation and ethics.

    Liberals know that NO company is above the law or beyond reproach when citizen rights are at stake. Pukes couldn’t care less what their masters do to American sheeple as long as the grease money flows.

  13. sargasso_c says:

    On reading further it now seems to me the GPS file is a benign cache used by Apple and maybe also third party GPS software to establish last-known location. Encrypting it would tremendously complicate the function of some apps. I may have over reacted and caused offence, for which I appologise.

  14. Howard Beale< will change handle when beck is off fox. says:

    “Franken is arguably in the top 5 of the smartest Congressmen we have”

    He wasn’t home schooled like the GOP would like or that every one to be, he has a Political Science Degree from Harvard graduating with honors sure he’s no Michele Bachmann the competition is pretty week. Hey if I still lived in Minnesota I’d vote for him.

    “Liberals know that NO company is above the law”

    do bad now companies have the same rights as people and Apple can take the 5th.

    typed from my MacBookPro this might be its last post as Apple will surely fry its i7 core as soon as i go back on lin##—-@!˝Ó ahhhhhhh…

  15. chris says:

    “Why is it the business of a Senator to make businessmen come and answer his questions?”

    They mostly don’t ask real questions. Politicians babble in one sentence until after their time is up.

    That is a major tragedy. Lying to Congress is a Federal Offense. Lots of imposing capital letters there.

    The person asking the question is in charge, generally. I don’t mean bullshit questions to prove you rock. Really tight topical questions.

    Franken is very good at this. It is obviously ironic. Incisive wit might just win against mindless corruption.

    Jon Stewart for President!

  16. Howard Beale< will change handle when beck is off fox. says:

    damn this dyslexia i need a proof reader

    word processing copy past errors (sorry)

    He wasn’t home schooled like the GOP would like every one to be…

    to bad now companies…

  17. ray says:

    Makes me glad I didn’t buy an iPhone. I wonder what the apple fan boys say about this one?

  18. Mr, Ed - the Original (with comma) says:

    # 49 Howard Beale >>Hey if I still lived in Minnesota I’d vote for him>>

    That election was so screwed up, you may have! Twice.

  19. Vamp07 says:

    I tend to agree that the issue is kind of silly but question #9 is very valid.

  20. moss says:

    Most of the question asked by Franken were answered/published about a year ago. Not that anyone here read them either:

  21. Ignatz says:

    How did you conclude “liberals” like Apple so much? Please quote the talking point or Murdoch publication (if there’s any difference).

  22. JimD says:

    Ha Ha I doubt Steve Jobs will respond to the Senator !!! Jobs is IN CONTROL, YOU ARE OUT OF CONTROL !!! Don’t like it ? DROP DEAD – AS FAR AS JOBS IS CONCERNED !!! I own you !!!


    Might put the BRAKES ON THIS NONSENSE !!!

  23. chuck says:

    Wouldn’t it be funny if Steve Jobs responds with one of his short-and-to-the-point e-mails:

    “Dear Al,

    Napolitano at DHS ordered us to do this. Please redirect all your questions to her.

    Steve Jobs
    – sent from my untraceable iPhone

    p.s. It’s a secret, so don’t tell anyone”

  24. Buzz Mega says:

    Sadly, Franken doesn’t know an electron from a hole in the semiconductor. This shows how even a Democrat can be so near, and yet so what.

    Politics. A disease worthy of a national health initiative.

  25. jescott418 says:

    So Al why does Senators like you waste so much time on privacy issues?
    Privacy is dead so get over it! If you want privacy dont get a computer, a smart phone or any other device that is connected to the internet, the cellular system or in any other electronic way. Now, maybe you could look into solving our lack of jobs?

  26. GregAllen says:

    >> So why do Liberals love this company so much?

    Really? I’m a liberal and it never occurred to me that Apple was somehow liberal.

    I’m not even saying McCullough is wrong, It just never thought that liberals liked Apple more than anyone else.

    Does this mean conservatives like Microsoft or what?

  27. GregAllen says:

    >> jbenson2 said, on April 21st, 2011 at 6:32 pm
    >> Al Franken is striving to reach the same heights that our former Governor Jesse “The Body” Ventura hit. I’ll give Franken a couple more years before he starts ranting that Bush brought down the Twin Towers.

    You’re just pulling that from your arse. The few times I’ve heard Senator Franken speak in committee, he’s always the smartest guy in the room.

    In the instance, the questions he is asking Apple are the right ones.

  28. Pkpost says:

    Liberals love Apple because Apple treats it’s customers the way liberals think government should treat it’s citizens.

    – Apple is extremely secretive.

    – Apple does not ask their consumers what they want – they tell the consumers what they will want.

    – Apple limits the freedom of their users by prohibiting the customization of their products to suite their needs.

    – Apple heavily relies on the court system to challenge other companies it sees as a threat to their power.

    – The late Steve Jobs (may his soul rest in peace) was dictatorial in his management style.

    More than anything it has to do with how people define freedom. Liberals see government as a vessel through which individuality can be relinquished in exchange for an existence through which they are freed from the burden of being responsible for providing many of the basics in life (Food, shelter, medical care) for themselves. Apple is seen as a company that will provide a wonderful product/service in exchange for giving up the freedom to tailor it to any specific need you might have. They see Apple as a company that is taking care of them, that is looking after them…that they(Appl) know what’s best for them(the customers). The only difference is that Apple is a company wholly bound by the capitalistic market forces that allows them to be successful, whereas liberals are promoting a government that seeks to ultimately make the success Apple has enjoyed next to impossible.


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