Wednesday, April 27, 2011

iAds and Location Data

Apple’s response to the consolidated.db controversy seems to explain what people wanted to know about its crowd-sourced location database and put that issue to rest. However, commenter Chucky notes that Apple has left itself an “escape clause” for iAds. The press release says:

Our iAds advertising system can use location as a factor in targeting ads. Location is not shared with any third party or ad unless the user explicitly approves giving the current location to the current ad (for example, to request the ad locate the Target store nearest them).

Apple’s privacy policy says:

We may collect information such as occupation, language, zip code, area code, unique device identifier, location, and the time zone where an Apple product is used so that we can better understand customer behavior and improve our products, services, and advertising.

And the Wall Street Journal, referring to the letter Apple sent last year to congressmen Markey and Barton, writes:

Apple, meanwhile, says it “intermittently” collects location data, including GPS coordinates, of many iPhone users and nearby Wi-Fi networks and transmits that data to itself every 12 hours…

[…]

Apple said the data it transmits about location aren’t associated with a unique device identifier, except for data related to its mobile advertising network.

In other words, even though “Apple is not tracking the location of your iPhone,” Apple’s servers do store location data tied to your iPhone device ID. Otherwise, Apple would not be able to target iAds based on your location history. Apple’s response today does not explain the extent of the information transmitted from your phone to Apple for iAds or how long Apple keeps the information. You can opt out of interest-targeted iAds, but this does not apply to the location tracking. It’s not clear whether your location data is still sent to iAds if you aren’t running any apps that use iAds. Additionally, though Apple emphasizes that it has “no plans to ever” track the location of your phone, it will only say that sharing iAds location data with third parties “currently” requires explicit approval from the user.

3 Comments

Well off-topic, but writing openmeta metadata is a disqualification from inclusion in the OS X AppStoreMonster? Ain't that write accomplished via the approved API's?

If so, I've got to say that that outrages me even more than iOS tracking your personal location info while Apple uses weasel words and weasel reasoning to deflect attention from what is plain sight.

I expect that kind of weaselly behavior on the iOS platform. But I still expect a modicum of decency on the OS X platform though the Lion lifecycle, which probably makes me a sucker.

@Chucky I’m not sure which app your question is in reference to, but the Mac App Store guidelines are pretty clear about how apps can use the filesystem. No matter which APIs you use, you are not allowed to write into preferences files or application support files from other applications or companies. This rules out data sharing in the normal way. The open-source OpenMeta implementation writes recent tags into the com.openmeta domain and backups into the OpenMeta folder in Application Support. In order to be accepted in the Mac App Store, I had to turn off the recent tags feature in EagleFiler’s OpenMeta implementation. (EagleFiler does not use the OpenMeta backup system due to various concerns I had about its design, and it has its own backup anyway.)

"No matter which APIs you use, you are not allowed to write into preferences files or application support files from other applications or companies ... The open-source OpenMeta implementation writes recent tags into the com.openmeta domain and backups into the OpenMeta folder in Application Support"

This just shows how far out of my depth a non-coder like me can get when I try to wade into the weeds on a topic I don't really know anything about in detail.

I stand corrected. Apple ins't being weaselly in the case of OpenMeta on OS X in the AppStoreMonster. They just have overly restrictive and anti-opensource AppStoreMonster guidelines, even when they aren't being overtly weaselly, in ways that hurt overall platform functionality. (Now I'll need to wrap my non-coder mind around how AppStoreMonster apps can still communicate with Growl under the guidelines...)

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