Apple has yet to officially respond to queries over the behind-the-scenes tracking behavior of some iOS devices including the iPhone and iPad. But that might have just changed based on the contents of an alleged e-mail response from Apple CEO Steve Jobs.
Responding to an e-mail from a reader of site MacRumors, and published by the site's authors, Jobs drops three big statements in three terse sentences:
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.
Jobs: Oh yes they do. We don't track anyone. The info circulating around is false.
Sent from my iPhone
Apple did not respond to a request for comment about the legitimacy of the e-mail, or the claims made within it. Citing confidentiality of its source, a representative for MacRumors declined to share a copy of the e-mail, though said the outlet examined the headers and believes them to be legitimate and consistent in key features to Jobs e-mails from the past.
There are three specific claims made within the short response, with the two key ones being that Apple is not tracking anyone, and that information about location tracking within iOS devices is false.
In a letter to Congress last year (PDF), Apple acknowledged that "cell tower and Wi-Fi access point information" was "intermittently" being collected and "transmitted to Apple" every 12 hours. This behavior appears to be separate from the locally stored database file containing timestamped location data, which made waves last week and which the company has yet to weigh in on. (See CNET's FAQ on the tracking file.)
Regarding the claim of Google tracking users, Google last week said that it provided users "with notice and control over the collection, sharing, and use of location in order to provide a better mobile experience on Android devices," and that "any location data that is sent back to Google location servers is anonymized and is not tied or traceable to a specific user."
Nonetheless, the data logs, which some Android phones send to Google on a regular basis, are attached to a 16-letter string that represents the Android device's ID. Google has not yet said whether or not these device ID numbers are decoupled with the location information as part of any database.
Jobs has a long history of interacting with individuals using his publicly available corporate e-mail account, but that behavior has quieted in recent months. Jobs is currently on his third medical leave from Apple, though continues to be involved in major strategic decisions.