Archive for April 27, 2011

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.