Tag Archives: IOS (Apple)

The unedifying arrogance of PC journalists

Barry Collins is angry. Specifically, Barry is almost splenetic about what he sees as “Apple’s unedifying arrogance” in its response to the brouhaha over the database which your iPhone carries of locations.

In particular, Barry is vexed over what he sees as Apple’s slipperiness over whether it’s tracking your location, describing its explanation as…

“at best, a distortion of the truth. Yes, the iPhone may only be plotting the location of Wi-Fi hotspots and 3G cell towers, but that’s often more than enough to build up an accurate picture of your whereabouts.”

Sorry, Barry, but that’s utter nonsense.

If I say to you “I’m tracking the location of your phone” that suggests that I have data from your phone which shows your location, tied to you (or rather, to your phone).  But no information which is identifiable to you or your phone is transmitted to Apple. The data which is sent to Apple isn’t tied to anything identifiable about your particular phone.

As Apple puts it:

“This data is sent to Apple in an anonymous and encrypted form. Apple cannot identify the source of this data.”

Therefore, Apple is not tracking the location of your phone. It’s really as simple as that.

Remember, too, that the majority of the data in the consolidated.db database isn’t actually from your phone – it’s downloaded from Apple’s servers to your phone to speed up the process of any app which calls CoreLocation to determine where you are (which apps do with your explicit consent).

To quote Apple’s release:

“This data is not the iPhone’s location data—it is a subset (cache) of the crowd-sourced Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower database which is downloaded from Apple into the iPhone to assist the iPhone in rapidly and accurately calculating location.”

And there would be no way for someone who gets hold of your phone, jailbreaks it, and grabs than database to determine which was data originating from you, and which from Apple. So they best “location” they could get for you is effectively regional in scale: it can tell you roughly whereabouts you tend to go, but not in a way which lets you determine when exactly you went there or even if you’ve ever been to a particular place.

Of course, the real “unedifying arrogance” that Barry is bothered about isn’t really that of Apple towards consumers:

“And what’s all this about “very complex technical issues” that are “hard to communicate in a soundbite”? That’s a bit rich from the company that sprinkles soundbites like confetti in keynote speeches, describing its iPad as “magical” without revealing even the most basic of specs – like how much memory the tablet has.

Give us as much technical detail as you like, Apple: we can handle it. If we get stuck, we can even pick up the phone and ask your press officers, in the unlikely event they’ll ever answer a question.” [My emphasis]

Aha. There you have it. The reason that Barry – and plenty of other tech journalists – call Apple arrogant is mainly because Apple doesn’t jump when the journalists tell them. Apple, in fact, has a very bad reputation amongst tech journalists for being one of the least responsive companies out there. And that reputation is, I can tell you from years of experience, entirely justified.

But in this case, I think it’s not really relevant. Apple took its time, determined what the issue was and how they could fix it, and spoke clearly about what the problem was. There really isn’t much more to say about it.

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