Apple said on Tuesday at a Senate hearing that they are collecting location data of cell sites and WiFi access points to improve their location services, not tracking user location. Apple emphasized again that the data recorded and sent back to their server are all anonymous.
This is the latest progress since Apple released iOS 4.3.3 to fix the location issue. In the update, Apple reduced the cache of the location data which will not be transferred to iTunes when users sync their iOS devices, and users can switch it off completely by disable the location service.
Apple previously said the unencrypted location file was a bug. It now seems to me what Apple said was true since sometimes the base stations logged are miles away from iPhone. It’s more likely Apple is using its iOS devices to collect as many cell sites and WiFi hotspots as possible to provide location based services. As a matter of fact, Google has been doing the same constantly as well, that is why Google Maps could calculate your handset’s location even it’s not GPS enabled.
There are a few advantages in doing so. GPS yield the most accurate location results, but it takes from a few seconds to a few minutes depending on you have a cold start or not, while it’s much faster using base stations and WiFi hotspots. What’s more, in places like streets, garage and tunnels there could be no GPS signal but cell towers and wireless access points work fine. So GPS is not always that reliable. Skyhook wireless became the first to realize that and they had drivers surveying WiFi hotspots to build their WPS system which is much quicker and more accurate. This is followed by Google. Since Google has its own popular Android OS and online mapping service Google Maps, the whole process is much easier.
Apple ditched Google Maps in iPhone a while ago; I sensed at the time that Apple was planning to develop their own mapping service, this is proved by the fact that Apple started to hire maps developer. So it came as no surprise that Apple had been logging cell sites and WiFi access point to build their own location database, which is essential for online mapping service.
Foursquare already pioneered the location service industry. Google also has some terrific yet not-so-popular location products, like Google Latitude, Google Maps and Google Earth. As the world’s most popular Smartphone maker, Apple wanted to catch up considering the huge potential market.
Apple’s only fault is logging user location without prior permission and leave the location file unencrypted, which finally made itself under fire.