Apple’s Legal Team Clarifies Position on Location-based Tracking

Following a letter sent to Apple CEO Steven Jobs expressing concerns about Apple’s plan to track its users’ locations, Reps. Joe Barton (R-Texas) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) have at last received a response from Cupertino.  Penned by Bruce Sewell, general counsel for Apple, the response elucidates the company’s plans in much more detail.

In the letter Sewell says that forcing users to agree to the new terms (language concerning the tracking was included in an iTunes update, which was uninstallable if you did not click to agree) was merely to help inform users of the change. 

He said any user can turn off location-aware services, which are found on iPhones and iPads running iPhone OS 4.0.  Though he does not explicitly state it, these services appear to be enabled by default on new iOS 4.0 devices.  A small icon on the services bar shows customers that location services are running.

Customers also have the option to permanently opt out of tracking at  Despite ambiguity in the contract language, Sewell indicates that Apple will respect customers’ wishes and not track them if they turn off location services in the OS or sign up at the opt-out page.

For users who intentionally or unintentionally do allow Apple to “collect, use and share precise location data, including real-time geographic location”, Sewell assures them that the data will only be kept for 6 months.  All data submitted to third parties will be made anonymous, as well.

The company writes, “Apple does not share any interest-based or location-based information about individual customers, including the zip code calculated by the iAd server, with advertisers.  Apple retains a record of each ad sent to a particular device in a separate iAd database, accessible only by Apple, to ensure that customers do not receive overly repetitive and/or duplicative ads for administrative purposes.”

The Democrat Representative Markey received the letter with mild praise for Apple, stating, “Apple’s responses provided additional information about how it uses location data and the ability of consumers to exercise control over a variety of features on Apple’s products, and I appreciate the company’s response.”

Republican Representative Barton sounded a bit more skeptical, stating, “While I applaud Apple for responding to our questions.  I remain concerned about privacy policies that run on for pages and pages. I hope every business uses information for advertising and marketing purposes that will work toward more transparency and complete disclosure about their practices, as well as robust security for the information they hold.”

AT&T and Apple recently lost over 100,000 iPad subscribers’ personal email addresses.  The issue hits close to home as the iPad and iPhone are very popular among both politicians on both sides of the aisle in Washington D.C.  Overseas, foreign politicians are very concerned about Apple’s increased surveillance of users; in fact Germany has threatened action against Apple over it.