In response to questions raised by two US House members, Ed Markey (D-MA) and Joe Barton (R-TX), Apple general counsel and senior vice president of legal and government affairs Bruce Sewell has written a 13-page letter
explaining how the company uses geographic data collected from its mobile and desktop devices. In the midst of all the corporate-speak and assurances there are a few interesting details about what information Apple obtains, and who they share it with.
On June 24, the chairmen of the US House Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus, Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas), sent a letter
.“Given the limited ability of Apple users to opt out of the revised policy and still be able to take advantage of the features of their Apple products," the representatives wrote, "we are concerned about the impact the collection of such data could have on the privacy of Apple’s customers."
In the response, Apple chief lawyer Sewell lets slip the fact that Apple had been sharing geo-data with both Google and Skyhook, who provided location services to pre-iPad versions of iPhone OS. In iOS 3.2 and newer versions, Apple is using its own geographic information servers to determine the location of Apple devices. Their database, which is supposedly stripped of all identifying information, includes geo-coords for cell towers, WiFi access points, and iDevice GPS chips. Sewell says the company doesn't collect SSIDs or any IDs from the GPS chips, which are batched, encrypted and transmitted to the main database in a block once every 12 hours. iPhones and iPads generate a random ID every 24 hours, which reportedly cannot be used to identify a specific device.
Sewell also says that the geo-coords collected from a mobile device with iAd location sharing enabled is converted immediately into a five-digit US ZIP Code, and the latitude and longitude information is deleted, leaving only the ZIP. He claims that the company will store that data for six months just so that users won't have to see from seeing duplicate ads. After that, the data is "aggregated" into regional data, with even specific ZIP codes removed.
In a Knowledge Base article
, Apple explains that users can opt-out of iAd's location and interest-based ad serving by going to http://oo.apple.com/
and waiting for the "You have successfully opted out" message. They warn, however, that ads may then "may be less relevant because they will not be based on your interests." Oh noes.
Source: Cult of Mac