Apple denied reports on Wednesday that its mobile devices are tracking and collecting data on users’ locations.
“Apple is not tracking the location of your iPhone,” the company said in a statement. “Apple has never done so and has no plans to ever do so.”
Last week, several media outlets reported that Apple iPhones and iPads can track a user's movements and keep them in a file on the device.
Apple attributed the growing concern over tracking to user confusion and a lack of information from the company.
The statement said that iPhones do not log their owners’ locations; rather, they are “maintaining a database of Wi-Fi hot spots and cell towers around your current location, some of which may be located more than 100 miles away from your iPhone, to help your iPhone rapidly and accurately calculate its location when requested.”
Google's Android software also collects and transmits users' locations, but the company says it solicits the owner's consent.
“All location sharing on Android is opt-in by the user," a Google spokesman said by email. "We provide users with notice and control over the collection, sharing and use of location in order to provide a better mobile experience on Android devices. Any location data that is sent back to Google location servers is anonymized and is not tied or traceable to a specific user.”
In letters to Apple CEO Steve Jobs and Google CEO Larry Page, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., called on both firms to testify at the May 10 hearing.
“While there are many benefits to innovative technologies like the iPhone, American consumers deserve to know the potential risks that these new technologies pose to their privacy and security,” Leahy said in the letter to Jobs. “The upcoming hearing on this important issue provides a timely opportunity for Apple Inc. to directly address these pressing privacy issues.”
But Apple says it cannot identify users from the location information. The company also announced a software update that will reduce the amount of information collected, stops backing up the file, and deletes the information entirely when users turn off location options.
Apple insisted it “strongly” believes that personal privacy is important.
“For example,” the statement reads, “iPhone was the first to ask users to give their permission for each and every app that wanted to use location. Apple will continue to be one of the leaders in strengthening personal information security and privacy.”
Justin Brookman, the Center for Democracy and Technology’s privacy project director, said there is reason to be concerned about companies collecting and storing location data, saying it makes such information vulnerable to hacker or to a civil or criminal subpoena.
Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., had been among the lawmakers calling for an investigation. He said Wednesday that we was pleased with Apple's move to update its software but he said he has additional concerns about using the information for ads targeted at users.
“Location information is extremely sensitive and must be safeguarded," Markey said in a statement. "By providing these additional consumer controls, using an Apple every day should help keep the predators away."