More on smartphones and the use of location information

I’m an optimist, I believe people are smart.  And some people want to share more data than some other people do.  Ask them.  Ask them every time. Make them tell you to stop asking them if they get tired of you asking them.  Let them know precisely what you’re going to do with their data. That’s what we think (Steve Jobs, D8 Conference, June 1, 2010).

In order to give the big picture, it must be said that not only the iPhone is tracking the moves of its users, but Windows phones do it too, and Android phones as well, with a couple of particularities.

In short, phones store users’ location data in hidden files.  The concern was centered on the reason why this data was being retrieved, and its ultimate use.  Apparently, in order to make GPS and location services work faster, the phone would use the location data stored in the phone in previous sessions following information from cell towers.  Thus, the device will use this information to get a rough estimate of its location until more real-time data is available.

The key factor in this situation is time. In the case of the Android phones, after 12 hours (for cellular data) or 48 hours (for Wi-Fi data) the information is erased and replaced by new locations. This implies around 50 entries, whereas the Apple device would store around 13,000 data entries.

It is important that some other opinions are heard.  An interesting analysis has been made by A. Hesseldahl on the practical implications of the phenomenon of location and tracking position data retrieval.

Some developers and specialists (Gruber on Ihnatko) have stated that the only problem Apple would be facing is the amount of data the device is storing, as there would not be a need to keep such a long log of locations in order to facilitate the speed of certain applications. Another issue is if the data is being diverted to third parties, which, so far, has not yet been answered.

On a different note, we must remember that lately users have been quite keen on sharing locations through applications (Latitude, Facebook places, Foursquare). Nevertheless, these recent developments show that consumers are somewhat concerned (52-59%) about apps and their privacy.

It is possible that this controversy will be solved by correcting this bug via an update of  iOS (Apple) and the rest of the mobile devices’ operative systems. What can be considered a milestone for all of this controversy is the fact that users have shown concern on knowing how smartphones handle their personal information.

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