Apple today released, as promised, an iOS update addressing location-tracking behavior, and the security of that information on its portable devices.
iOS 4.3.3, which is a free update delivered through Apple's iTunes software, reduces the size of the "crowdsourced" location cache, no longer backs up the cache to iTunes in the form of a device recovery image, and deletes the cache when a user turns Location Services off.
Two of those issues--the size of the database, and the failure to delete the cache from the device--Apple had called "bugs" when addressing the issue in an open letter exactly one week ago. In that same note, Apple described the purpose of the location information stored on its devices as helping to speed up location fixes, saying that the database itself was part of a larger and anonymized one the company maintained to improve its location services. Apple also promised the next major version of the iOS software would fully encrypt the portion of that database on the device itself.
Focus on the cache reached a fever pitch last month following a high-profile report by two researchers demonstrating ways to visualize the data it contained. Lawmakers and privacy advocates alike targeted the company, wanting to know why the file was there and what the company was up to. Apple countered queries that it was "tracking" users by saying it wasn't, and that it "has no plans to ever do so."
Devices that are eligible for the update include the GSM model of the iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, first- and second-generation iPad models, as well as third- and fourth-generation iPod Touch models. Users with Verizon (CDMA) iPhones are getting iOS 4.2.8, which brings similar fixes to the location cache.
A report surfaced earlier this week from Boy Genius Report with accurate information about the version number of the update, and the adjustments, as well as a note that Apple planned to improve battery life with the update. Such a fix is not mentioned in the release notes from the software.