Did Steve Jobs respond to iPhone location-tracking brouhaha in a terse email? Mmmmaybe.


Surely you've been following the iPhone-tracks-your-location-data story in recent weeks. As of today, the Wall Street Journal is the latest large outlet to cover the story of security experts Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden's study of what location data the device stores about where users go, on what dates. The visual maps generated by their iPhone Tracker app show location data breadcrumbs that go back months. Many iPhone owners are so horrified by this apparent breach of privacy, they've been moved to the drastic measure of posting the data on their Facebook pages.

MacRumors has published what is alleged to be one of those characteristically concise email from Steve Jobs, in which the Apple CEO appears to respond to the controversy with three points, in three sentences:

Q: Steve,

Could you please explain the necessity of the passive location-tracking tool embedded in my iPhone? It's kind of unnerving knowing that my exact location is being recorded at all times. Maybe you could shed some light on this for me before I switch to a Droid. They don't track me.

A: Oh yes they do. We don't track anyone. The info circulating around is false.

Sent from my iPhone

Apple has not confirmed the email. But, let's imagine it's legit: what does it all mean? Read more at MacRumors.

(Why is there a cat on this image?)


  1. “Apple has not confirmed the email. But, say it’s legit. What does it all mean?”

    It means that Steve Jobs would make a good politician – he can answer a question without really answering it at all.

      1. “No, it means he is speaking for Steve Jobs, not for Apple.”

        Do you live in some parallel universe where Steve Jobs is not the co-founder and current CEO of Apple?

    1. “They” don’t have location data. It’s stored on your phone and locally on your computer but it’s not transmitted to Apple.
      If I give you a notebook and you write down everywhere you go in it then keep it in your desk, am I tracking you?

      1. Nope. It’s more that Apple wrote everywhere you went in a notebook you didn’t know existed, then, without your knowledge, put it outside on the sidewalk in front of your house in a cardboard box marked with your name on the bottom of it.

        Is it your responsibility to magically know that you are supposed to protect this information that you didn’t know existed and put it in a secure location?

        What happens if an app was create to mine this unsecured info?

        1. Except, of course, that it doesn’t. Which is trivially easy to find out by actually looking at the data.

          1. I make things pretty. I’m not a data researcher/hacker-type so I wouldn’t know how to access the info or what’s truely is in that data. :)

            I’m not paranoid enough to think that Apple is tracking me. I just don’t like the idea that there is a piece of data that has my whereabouts on it which I had no idea was there and Apple said nothing about it.

            If what you is saying is true and this tracking data is so general as to be almost pointless then I have no beef with the issue.

            And I do need to stop with analogies but I’m not the best writer in the world.

          2. I wanted to try an analogy, but that woul be pointless. these things fail so easily.

            Actually, I just opened Photos in my iPad to bring up the map of my geotagged photos. It’s covers about the same region the cell location data. More or less. A business trip is covered in better detail on iphonetrackerl, clusters of stations around the train line. However, some placed iphonetracker reports are not places I’ve been to at all. Also some photos disclose much more information.

            There’s a business trip to Dresden that’s covered in the cluster view, but a couple of photos I took of the hotel and my room, to report back to my wife for a possible holiday getaway. Tells exactly what hotel, the coordinates and when I took those photos down to the second.

            It’s even possible to guesstimate how long the check in took, by the amount f time between photographing the main entrance and the empty room with the unpacked suitcase on the bed

        2. Not true in any way. As stated, iOS is storing data about your location, but isn’t transmitting it. Apple, the company, isn’t collecting information about your location. They, the company, are not tracking you. The paranoia is silly.

          1. Sure, data isnt being transmitted back to the mothership. Its just specifically being copied onto any computer with which you sync your device.

            With no purpose or reason. You know, just for fun.

          2. We call this a backup. I’ve heard even companies like Google find those to be useful once in a while.

          3. Not true. For one, you can only truly sync your iOS device with your home computer. And, myself, I like the idea of having backups of my data on my computer.

        3. Any person or software with unfettered access to your computer can learn all sorts of things about you and I don’t see how this is different. I agree that it shouldn’t have been a secret and there should be a way to opt out.

  2. We have learned that closed systems where we don’t have real root scare phone companies but lead to freedom for users but it always turns out the closed Apple or RIM phones are what bring down networks not a few geeks on open Linux phones. Phones like the Nokia N900 give a smooth Ubuntu like experience, then Nokia dumps Meego for the company and user killing WinCE-7. Even more free the Openmoko hoped that the community would develop the whole phone OS for them from scratch for free and failed when the already dated hardware became obsolete.
    I personally hope to see cheap phones out of China running Meego with a feature set approaching a Nokia N900 including command console as part of the stock install.
    A smart phone should be a small computer with a really great reliable phone app, that computer should give me the same freedom and access I expect from my servers or laptops.

  3. Most of the reports of this seem to bury that it’s not actually tracking you – it’s recording the where to find the most convenient cell tower or wireless network. This sort of thing would serve to conserve battery life by making it so the phone doesn’t have to keep checking to see what other cell towers are nearby.

  4. Okay, I spent about 6 to 8 hours this weekend to analyze the tables iPhoneTracker uses.

    And my conclusion is that I don’t trust none of you anymore – Cory, Boing Boing, Guardian, Spiegel Online.

    None of them did any worthwhile research whatsoever, instead they keep repeating the same falsehoods and speculations.

    My findings:

    * The low granularity of the data makes tracking nearly impossible. One can deduce the date an iOS device entered a given region, at most. And when I say region I talk about dozens, sometimes hundreds of square miles.

    * The data is not even generated on the iphone. I can conclusively demonstrate that my iPhone, my iPad and my wife’s iphone, which doesn’t even get synced on the same account, share more than 3,000 identical entries in the table wifilocation. 3.000 distinct MAC addresses, all associated with exactly the same longitude and latitude, down to the last digit

    Sorry guys, but that’s just sloppy journalism, sensationalistic hysteria.

    I knew, of course, that Boing Boing is not a science or tech blog, but really, I simply cannot trust andyof your posts concerning such issues at all any more, even when it applies to Fukushima or citizen rights abuses.

    1. Silly boy. The Guardian doesn’t need ball breaking investigative reporters. Its demographic is lifestyle obsessed middle class lefties in their 40’s to 60’s. Their whole life is a lie anyway.

    2. Get out of here, and take your “facts” and your “research” with you! You’re cramping the narrative.

  5. @jdollak #10 – What world do you live in where storing information about the geographically closest reference point DOESN’T count as tracking?

    @Modano #5 – Please don’t try to bring analogies into this. You’re just going to get everyone bogged down arguing about whether the analogy is perfectly suited and analogous to the issue at hand, and there’s always going to be someone coming in with a new wrinkle that more accurately describes the problem. Analogies don’t make the issue clearer, they confuse it.

    Arguing about whether Apple (and Google) are intentionally tracking you and how they gather the information is a sleight of hand diversion from the real complaints people have.

    Here’s the issue people have: There’s easily accessible information, gathered in a manner independent of end-user control, that could be used to identify your daily travel patterns.

    That’s the privacy breach, and that’s the problem people have. Not with whether Apple is using the information, not with whether it’s uploaded to Apple, but that it exists in the first place.

    The fear isn’t that Apple is tracking you and tailoring services to you or something like that. It’s that anyone who picks your pocket, has unfettered access to your phone for a couple minutes, or who decides to go through your bag while you’re in the bathroom could find out where you live, where you work, where you go in your off time, and things of the like.

    And yes, it’s not exact info. Yes you could get the same information by following someone around. But that doesn’t mean it’s okay for your phone to have that information.

    (Personally I don’t give a shit if my phone tracks me, and it doesn’t surprise me at all that this happens. But I don’t think people truly understand the reason other people are upset about this. This is a risk I’m okay taking, but I know there are other people who don’t feel comfortable with it. I don’t agree with them, but I think it’s important for everyone to clearly understand their point of view.)

    1. You’re right that analogies can muddy the waters but every story on this topic says “Apple is tracking your movements” and that’s demonstrably false since none of this info is sent to Apple. It could be more correctly phrased as “your iPhone records where it goes and stores it on your computer in a potentially insecure way.”

    1. You’re kidding, right? RIM, the same company that cooperates with any number of foreign regimes that require surveillance and pass-through of data in order for the devices to be permitted for use within their borders?

  6. I’m shocked that even after having owned an iPhone since the first prototype, Steve Jobs still hasn’t figured out how to disable that annoying “sent from my iPhone” signature.

  7. So, Gobo should I believe that the software was created to collect data but never to transmit that data to anyone? Then why does it exist?

    And I understand that Apple the company is not tracking me day to day in that they don’t literally have people on the clock watching me and taking notes. They did however create some code that does that for them (or anyone else that reads the unencrypted data).

    And why is it paranoid to wonder about the purpose of some strange tracking software on my own device? Usually paranoid people have to imagine such things.

    1. “Usually paranoid people have to imagine such things.”

      You mean like where you imagined that this is “some strange tracking software” and that it tracks you? Read the comment above that talks about how this isn’t tracking software. Go and download the software that puts it on a map for you. See for your self how much tracking is going on. Then wonder if you really need to be a’skerd or if you’re merely being manipulated for capitalist reasons.

  8. It would be useful to test this case in a court of law. As I see it, most people have signed up to Apple’s Terms & Conditions without being given accurate information on the magnitude of the data gathering. It’s irrelevant that the location data being harvested lacks accuracy (no doubt this will improve) and that it is – supposedly – not being used. The key point is whether such extensive data logging constitutes a breach of privacy and whether it places someone in jeopardy, e.g. with jealous spouses or with repressive regimes.

  9. Geotagging pictures is a feature that should be available to the end user to toggle on or off, and really should be disabled by default. (that’s how my android works, I don’t know about the iphone but from what I understand is that it is active by default). The users that were surprised about this information simply didn’t understand the full potential of the data/feature.

    The point is, photo geo tracking was (kind of) asked for by photographers, and has eventually made it’s way into smart phones. This latest geo tracking folder is an entirely different set of circumstances.

  10. The only possible concern is that 3rd or more corporations aside from your phone company which already shares all of your location and calling info with the gubermint will somehow use these files for ads or other research.
    I would like to find a better way than carrying an old school Motorola Bravo-plus pager and a ham radio tuned to a repeater to avoid being tracked and recorded like a convict on triple secret probation.
    Maybe regime change?

  11. Sam, simply put, recording a person’s location and time is synonymous with tracking that person.

    But, what exactly am I imagining when I describe, “some strange tracking software”? It exists does it not? It tracks does it not? It is strange in that it was previously unknown to me. So wherein lies my delusion?

  12. Anon, (and that’s telling in itself), are you just a troll, or are you really to dumb to understand what was clearly said above? The information is not ‘tracking’, if it was, there would be a clear sequence of points following every journey you make, allowing anyone to see clearly exactly what route you take, every place you visit, and how long you took. This info does absolutely nothing of the sort. Anyone gaining access to your iPhone, or the computer to which it syncs, firstly would have to know this information was there, and how to access it, which they now do, thanks to these two publicity hungry muppets. Secondly there is nothing whatsoever contained in the info that could possibly be of any use to anyone whatsoever. All it says is that the devise talked to various cell towers and wifi hotspots, many kilometres from where the devise actually was. I doubt very much that it could be used as evidence in a court case, it’s much too vague. Third, there is very much more info contained on any person’s phone that would be far more useful to a criminal than this spurious rubbish. And web browser histories would reveal a hell of s lot more than most people would likely be comfortable with. Which is why I use two, one set to dump the history after every use. Anon, give it up, you just sound like a typical Applehater trolling on Macdailynews or Macuser forums.

  13. Lot of confusion about this. Several commenters above contend the data isn’t transmitted to Apple, which conflicts with coverage at Wired (and apparently Apple’s own letter to Rep. Markey last year) stating the data is encrypted and transmitted to Apple every 12 hours:

    CNET’s reported that this info. is already being used by law enforcement:

    I’ll give Apple the benefit of the doubt that the purpose of keeping and transmitting the information is to improve service and reception. However, storing an unencrypted text file with months or years worth of location data borders on negligence. It’s just a really bad software security standard to make private data this freely available to anyone who can get into your phone.

  14. attention valued Apple consumers:

    Effective now, you will use the phrase “recording time and location information”, replacing the word “track”

    Resume normal operation

  15. Jobs:

    A: Oh yes they do. We don’t track anyone. The info circulating around is false.


    let’s imagine it’s legit: what does it all mean?

    Well, that’s an easy one. Let’s break it down:

    “Oh yes they do.” – Yes, Android does gather the same information, and more, it actually gets transmitted to Google – which is more than what the iPhone does.

    “We don’t track anyone.” – Again, the data doesn’t get transmitted to Apple, and they aren’t tracking you.

    “The info circulating around is false.” – Self-explanatory.

    Doesn’t seem at all cryptic. I’m no Apple apologist (while I love my macbook pro, I’ll never have an iPhone and indeed I have an Android Nexus One) but I agree with Steve Jobs here. The reality of the situation is getting overblown.

    I do agree it’s an unnecessary risk to log the data the way they do, but it’s actually less of a “black box” so to speak than on Android – we can’t really be sure what exactly is sent to Google along with the cell tower locations and whether or not they’re tracking us (I don’t believe that they are, but it’s a total unknown).

    If your worry is about jealous spouses etc., rather than corporate/government tracking, then yeah, the iPhone data is worse. On Android the data is trivially cleared, and doesn’t story much locally to begin with.

  16. For all those saying Apple’s not tracking you: to put it in perspective, back in the day when there were no cel phones, or an network of any kind, security firms and detectives could track you with relative ease, using the paper trail-receipts, as stores keep a copy, cheques, etc. Heck, given a name, they could track you, and a good detective could work from a photograph. Nowadays? ever so much easier. If the phone is storing location data, or in the case of ad companies actually targeting you, through your Iphone, then yes, they can track you. You admit that the location data is there, but Apple doesn’t access it-when they already have a feature that gives personal information, including location, that can’t be disabled?

    It’s a weak argument, at best. And as some have said, what with blue toothing (stealing someone’s phone hours) and other hacks-little things like a good personation criminal just needs some of your ID to get to your account-then yeah, the worries are legitimate. At the very least, this could very well bite into sales revenue. Oh, and if that reply is legit-then Jobs is saying, “Okay, go with us, cause everybodies stealing your personal data, only we have nicer phones.” Which is a crappy sales tactic, and pure BS.

    1. Actually, stealing my receipts and fotos would yield much more accurate data than what is on my phone.

      Not to mention the emails in my IMAP, which disclose the machine I sent the mails from, including the IP, which very likely discloses where place where I am. In some cases down to the block, I’ve seen cases where it was possible just by checking the email-header to see in what hotel the sender was at the given time.

      Yes, that’s right people. Google – and any other email-provider, of course, including Apple’s MobileMe , could look at your mails headers and determine a rough profile. Even more detailed, when you are in the habit of using the web interface from devices which are not your own.

      Boing Boing, of course, could do this, too, by the way, if you are even a moderate user and if you post once in a while.

      Hey Moderator, I authorize you to log my requests or use possible existing logs to determine the places where i’ve posted from and to disclose the information where I most likely work and live, if you feel like adding to the discussion. :-) If you don’t actually log this information – commendable – I authorize you to log this data until Tuesday, 3rd of May, 24:00 GMT.

      1. OMG, Boing Boing secretly tracks all its users (that is, stores all location data and time stamps)! Xeni, write an article about this!

        Thanks for casting some light of reason on this, peterbruells. However, don’t start expecting that BB will correct any of this coverage.

      2. BoingBoing tracking me. Hmmm…makes sense.

        BB tracking me isn’t what’s freaking me out…the fact that Cory Doctorow might start peeking in my bathroom window is freaking me out. Everytime I hear the gravel crunching outside my bathroom window, from now on I will panic, like I do when I hear a duck hovering over my house.

        I would obtain a restraining order against Mr. Doctorow, but in order to get one, I need to go to the courthouse, and the clerks at the courthouse all have restraining orders against me.

        Every single one.

        So I guess I’ll just have to make sure the shades are shut or better yet tin-foil my windows like I have done in the rest of the house. I haven’t tin-foiled by bathroom windows as-of-yet because they are small and high up but now I think I’d better do it. I’m sure Doctorow has already Googled the instructions on how to use a step-ladder.

        Anyway, thanks for your posts Mr. Bruells. Your test results were very interesting and your insight concerning geotagging was great.


  17. As to why it’s getting stored on your Mac/PC… I would hazard an educated guess that they just grabbed a whole tarball of the contents of the phone, and that file was in it…

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