There’s been something of a storm over the “discovery” that your iPhone contains a database file which includes details of where you’ve carried your phone, and that this information is sent back to Apple (with your consent, although as often happens you probably didn’t read the license you gave to Apple, did you?)
But your iPhone isn’t the only machine sending location data back to Apple: Your Mac, if you’re running Snow Leopard, does it too. As does Safari 5, even if you’re running it on Windows (I think).
Last July, two US Representatives sent some queries to Apple over how it was handling personal information, and Apple responded to them in a detailed letter [PDF download]. That letter contained details of what location data Apple collected, and how it is used. As well as covering the uses of the data it collects from iPhone, it included details on Snow Leopard and Safari.
First, Snow Leopard:
So, whenever you make a location request – and that will presumably include any application which uses CoreLocation, such as the excellent NetworkLocation – OS X does a little look around, checks out where you are, probably notes which WiFi hotspots are available, and sends that data back to Apple. It doesn’t, of course, contain any data which could connect that location to you.
Again, your location is transmitted to Apple. But it’s not connected with you, personally.
Why does this matter? Well, here’s the point: Location services don’t happen by magic. To make location services work, companies have to collect data about where you are, and that data has to get stored somewhere. In the case of your iPhone, that’s on the phone. With CoreLocation on Snow Leopard, that information sits, anonymised, on a database in an Apple server somewhere.
If you want to take advantage of software which knows where you are, that data has to be gathered, moved around, and stored. It shouldn’t be a surprise. There are no magic pixies inside your iPhone, your Android phone, your Mac, your Windows PC, or even your browser gathering this stuff up. It’s databases. And they’ll live on, somewhere, not because people are evil and “WANT YOUR DATA TO SPAM YOU” but because if it doesn’t you can’t have the services work well and reliably.