Bud Tribble, an old time Jobs confidant and Apple’s vice president of software technology, testified today before members of the US Congress on the company’s privacy and location gathering practices. Tribble, an engineer that helped design the Mac operating system and user interface (also a Sun an NeXT veteran), appeared for a hearing led by Senator Al Franken who took the matter public in the first place. Barron’s reports that Tribble re-iterated Apple’s official stance on the issue, which is that the company doesn’t track its users and has no plans to ever do so in the future.
We do not share customer information with third parties without our customers’ explicit consent. Apple does not track users’ locations. Apple has never done so and has no plans to do so. An Apple device does not send to Apple any specific device information associated with a user. The purpose of the cache is to allow the device to more quickly and reliably respond to location requests. Apple was never tracking an individual user’s location. The data seen on the iphone was not the location past or present of the iPhone, but the location of cell towers surrounding the phone. Although the cache was not encrypted, it was protected from other apps on the phone.
He also said that the iOS 4.3.3 update turned on encryption of the crowd-sourced location database on the phone. He made it clear this database is no longer synced with a computer. Said firmware update also fixed a bug where the iPhone would continue updating the database even when users turned location services off, he explained. “Apple is committed to giving customers clear notice and choice, and our products do so in a simple, elegant way”, he said.
Tribble, pictured below, took the opportunity to educate Congressmen about location retrieval, underscoring that the iPhone never retrieves a user’s precise geolocation for the database. Instead, he went on to argue, the combination of “cell phone towers and WiFi hotspots, and the phone’s knowledge of what you can receive, is how the phone can determine your location”. There you have it, esteemed members of Congress. Can we now put this subject to rest and please move on?