Senator Al Franken Grills Steve Jobs About iPhone Tracking

Senator Al Franken Grills Steve Jobs About iPhone Tracking

Senator Al Franken (D-MN) wants answers about the iPhone’s undisclosed tracking features.

As reported, the iPhone and 3G iPad secretly record your location as you travel around and sync it with your computer. It appears to be a serious violation of privacy. It was first disclosed by security researchers Alasdair Allan and Pete Warren at O’Reilly’s Where 2.0 conference.

Apple hasn’t yet explained the matter, prompting Sen. Franken to publish an open letter to Steve Jobs demanding answers.

Sen Franken wants to know why Apple is collecting the data; how it is collected; what it is used for; why it isn’t encrypted; if the data is shared; and why consumers aren’t asked before the data is collected.

Here’s the full text of Sen. Franken’s letter to Jobs:

April 20, 2011

Mr. Steve Jobs
1 Infinite Loop
Cupertino, CA, 95014

Dear Mr. Jobs,

I read with concern a recent report by security researchers that Apple’s iOS 4 operating system is secretly compiling its customers’ location data in a file stored on iPhones, 3G iPads, and every computer that users used to “sync” their devices. According to the researchers, this file contains consumers’ latitude and longitude for every day they used an iPhone or 3G iPad running the iOS 4 operating system-sometimes logging their precise geo-location up to 100 times a day. The researchers who discovered this file found that it contained up to a year’s worth of data, starting from the day they installed the iOS 4 operating system. What is even more worrisome is that this file is stored in an unencrypted format on customers’ iPads, iPhones, and every computer a customer has used to back up his or her information. See Alasdair Allen & Pete Warden, Got an iPhone or 3G iPad? Apple is Recording Your Moves (Apr. 20, 2011), available at http://radar.oreilly.com/2011/04/apple-location-tracking.html.

The existence of this information — stored in an unencrypted format — raises serious privacy concerns. The researchers who uncovered this file speculated that it generated location based on cell phone triangulation technology. If that is indeed the case, the location available in this file is likely accurate to 50 meters or less. See Testimony of Michael Amarosa, Before the House Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, June 24, 2010 at page 7 available at http://judiciary.house.gov/hearings/pdf/Amarosa100624.pdf.

Anyone who gains access to this single file could likely determine the location of a user’s home, the businesses he frequents, the doctors he visits, the schools his children attend, and the trips he has taken — over the past months or even a year. Cf. People v. Weaver, 909 N.E.2d 1195, 1199-1200 (N.Y. 2009) (“What this technology yields and records with breathtaking quality and quantity is a highly detailed profile, not simply of where we go, but by easy inference, of our associations … and of the pattern of our professional and avocational pursuits.”).

Moreover, because this data is stored in multiple locations in an unencrypted format, there are various ways that third parties could gain access to this file. Anyone who finds a lost or stolen iPhone or iPad or who has access to any computer used to sync one of these devices could easily download and map out a customer’s precise movements for months at a time. It is also entirely conceivable that malicious persons may create viruses to access this data from customers’ iPhones, iPads, and desktop and laptop computers. There are numerous ways in which this information could be abused by criminals and bad actors. Furthermore, there is no indication that this file is any different for underage iPhone or iPad users, meaning that the millions of children and teenagers who use iPhone or iPad devices also risk having their location collected and compromised. An estimated 13% ofthe 108 million iPhones and 19 million iPad devices sold are used by individuals under the age of 18, although some of these devices may not have been upgraded to iOS 4. See AdMob, AdMob Mobile Metrics Report at 5 (Jan. 2010), available at http://metrics.admob.com/wp-content/uploads/201 0/02/AdMob-Mobile-MetricsJan-10.pdf; Complaint of Apple Inc. v. Samsung Electronics, CV-11-1846 at 4-5 (N.D. Cal. Apr. 15, 2011).

These developments raise several questions:

1. Why does Apple collect and compile this location data? Why did Apple choose to initiate tracking this data in its iOS 4 operating system?

2. Does Apple collect and compile this location data for laptops?

3. How is this data generated? (GPS, cell tower triangulation, WiFi triangulation, etc.)

4. How frequently is a user’s location recorded? What triggers the creation of a record of someone’s location?

5. How precise is this location data? Can it track a user’s location to 50 meters, 100 meters, etc.?

6. Why is this data not encrypted? What steps will Apple take to encrypt this data?

7. Why were Apple consumers never affirmatively informed of the collection and retention of their location data in this manner? Why did Apple not seek affirmative consent before doing so?

8. Does Apple believe that this conduct is permissible under the terms of its privacy policy? See Apple Privacy Policy at “Location-Based Services” (accessed on April20, 2011), available at www.apple.com/privacy.

9. To whom, if anyone, including Apple, has this data been disclosed? When and why were these disclosures made?

I would appreciate your prompt response to these questions and thank you for your attention to this matter.

Sincerely
Al Franken
United States Senator

The entire letter is here (PDF).

Via ArsTechnica

  • John

    Action finally be taken into account. Win.

  • Michael

    So the economy is still in the crapper, the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Libya continue to drag on, and gas prices continue to reach astronomical heights. And THIS is what Dear Senator Stuart Smalley is concerning himself with right now? Oy vey.

  • Imp

    Nice work Mr. Senator, quick reaction. Nice.

    Although, some of the Questions you’re asking have already been replied to, like “How is this data generated?”

  • Arif Muslax

    “It was first disclosed by security researchers Alasdair Allan and Pete Warren at O’Reilly’s Where 2.0 conference.”

    It is not new and it is not secret. Chek here:
    https://alexlevinson.wordpress

  • Jeff M.

    The iphone users of Minnesota can now sleep a little sounder. Those Minnesota residents with sons and daughters dying in Afghanistan, well, you will have to wait. There is evil iphone trickery a foot!

  • theoPhobia

    Steve’s reply: “nope”

  • Jay Floyd

    So, to the posters bringing up wars and such, because we have many problems, a severe and potentially dangerous invasion of privacy by a major corporation should be ignored?

    No. It shouldn’t. Bravo, Franken. Apple has some splainin to do.

  • Nothingisreal

    “sent from his iPad”

  • Joseph

    Agreed! I used to like Franken, but you’d think he’d have better things to do than spend his time chasing nonsense false headlines. The device stores the data so that applications can use it, only after you give them permission to use it. Could your jealous spouse or a private detective or the CIA steal your phone and use the extractor to find out where the phone has been. Yes, but if your worried about that happening than you have much bigger problems you should be worried about. Here’s a fact of life that everybody should understand in 2011: If you use a mobile phone, both the network and the device itself always know the location of the device, and a system will keep track of this, so you are 100% always being tracked if you carry a mobile phone. There is no doubt that Android phones would have a similar record, but I won’t hold my breath waiting for the blogsphere to freak out about it.

  • Omoegbeyemi

    A hundred bucks says the senator’s having some sleepless night as he’s definitely got reason to be worried due to places he’s been within the past year…can someone get a hold of his iPhone, iPad etc and prove me wrong?

  • Omoegbeyemi

    A hundred bucks says the senator’s having some sleepless night as he’s definitely got reason to be worried due to places he’s been within the past year…can someone get a hold of his iPhone, iPad etc and prove me wrong?

  • Deocliciano Okssipin Vieira

    He is there to protect the people?
    And you are against?

    I believe in Apple because until now it did not gave me A reason not to, Apple is NOT out there to grab the world and put it on its pocket ( it’s biz model is a proof of ). But it is made of humans beings not robots!

    Apple never rush to explain anything, as they always do, but i want them to explain that it does not collect that data, which i believe they do not.

  • Deocliciano Okssipin Vieira

    Just because he is a progressive thinker, does not mean he is not a Patriotic.

    Patriotism as it is preached in the USA ( that USA is never wrong against others ) is what gives conservatives advance @ the ballot.

  • Deocliciano Okssipin Vieira

    Why NOT?

    Innocent until proven NOT?!

  • Deocliciano Okssipin Vieira

    Like he knows much of what he is talking about?

    … go Apple set the bar straight.

  • Charles

    I hope Osama Bin Laden has an iPhone he synced at his parents house xD

  • hdoug

    My file tells me I need to get out more.

  • mahimahimahi

    Trying to win over the Fandroids…. Tisk Tisk.

  • Chenalive

    Boy, would they be bored with my life….

  • colinfox58

    This Franken idiot needs to get a life and find some real issues to work on.

  • Nile

    Al Franken is an idiot! He’s equal to Alan Grayson from FLorida whom was a one term Representative who kept putting his foot in his mouth!

    Like Franken doesn’t have anything better to do with his time, how about we get working on the Economy Mr. Franken!

  • Robert X

    The ONLY issue is that the file wasn’t encrypted. It is in the EULA that they collect this and by “collect this” I mean it is a file on your phone that it uses as a location cache. It does not get sent to Apple.

    Stuart should shut his mouth and worry about bigger things and let the industry take care of it (and it will).

  • Allan Cook

    I hope Al gets some answers. I really would prefer not to have Apple — or anyone else — tracking me without my consent, geotagging my photos, etc.

  • akri

    LOL Bate..good one!

  • akri

    I love Apple and all and I hope this isn’t really happening or else they got a lot of ‘splaining to do!

  • BMWTwisty

    Franken is an asshat. He needs to go away. Better yet, take Jesse Jackson Junior with you.

  • Michael

    Ignored? No. However, the media and the court of public opinion will do a much better job at getting answers and skewering Apple on the kebob of public concern than a politician ever will, short of a subpoena. The point is, Franken had a kneejerk reaction to something that shouldn’t even be a blip on his radar at this point.

  • Anon

    If you knew anything about the function of government you would know that this is Franken’s committee assignment (Judiciary, Subcommittee on Privacy Technology and the Law). So dear Stuart isn’t tasked with ending the wars. That would be the president’s job, which he hasn’t done. Al Franken is doing his job. I am one of the biggest Apple fan-boys out there and am very upset by this. An invasion of privacy or breach in security of my private information is a tremendous black-eye for Apple. It allows both criminals and the government access to my personal life. I did not buy an iPad 3G to be tracked.

  • mfishk

    You have no privacy, Senator Franken, welcome to the 21st century…

  • ctt1wbw

    Al Franken is an idiot. Pure and simple. Should have stayed on SNL.

  • jon

    honestly this is ridiculous, who cares that it tracks you… I mean their are about fifty different electronic devices being carried around everyday that can be tracked with ease and probably are.

  • yahoo-EA3DDRH2AA4QC2D4XTSSMPTYFA

    Man,this article has brought out the two most vile forms of life on this planet: the Appletards and the Repukes.

  • Polimon

    Apple does not collect this data. Expert answers to all your questions here:

    https://alexlevinson.wordpress

  • Gru

    And he’s also totally wrong. It’s a complete non issue, and not a new one.

    https://alexlevinson.wordpress

    Franken just made himself look like a complete idiot.

  • close encounters

    So I guess by “working on the economy” you mean,”more tax breaks for the rich” and gutting social services. I thought assholes like yourself wanted more privacy.

    Sorry about the name calling but that seems be the direction this tread is going.

  • close encounters

    This is his life. This is why he was elected. He actually is capable of having more than one thing on his plate at a time. I realize it’s a bit different than, “we can’t get the economy on track while there are still abortions going on and NPR is still on the dole”.
    Privacy is a real issue. How else do you explain most bloggers fake IDs.

  • Echo64

    Sigh.
    1) iPhone data CAN be encrypted.
    2) This date is useful and no data is sent to apples servers
    3) you need to chill, noone cares about any of your little lives. This data is for your use, and only your use. If your worried about your data, encrypt it. Simple as that

  • carddsi

    People may not notice it, Android OS is not the only product to collect our location data, Google street view cars, Google Maps, Chrome all have been recording our information. I have made a few online tools to query our location data in Google server, and find that Google actually knows more than we think.
    You can use the the tool to check if Google is watching you as well here http://cellphonetrackers.org/ghttp://cellphonetrackers.org/g

About the author

Leander KahneyLeander Kahney is the editor and publisher of Cult of Mac. He is the NYT bestselling author of Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple's Greatest Products; Inside Steve’s Brain; Cult of Mac; and Cult of iPod. Leander has written for Wired, MacWeek, Scientific American, and The Guardian in London. Follow Leander on Twitter @lkahney and Facebook.

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