Apple today issued a response to the controversy around the location database on modern iOS devices that a group of researches discovered last week. Apple categorically denies that it is tracking its users. The database on the phone, according to Apple, does not track a user’s location but is actually a crowdsourced database of nearby WiFi hotspots and cell towers around the users’ location.
With the help of this database, the iOS device can quickly triangulate its position and lock on to GPS satellites and cell towers faster. This database, Apple says, is downloaded onto the phone and should only consist of a subset of the total number of towers and WiFi hotspots in your area. The fact that the devices download far more data is, according to Apple, “a bug we uncovered and plan to fix shortly.”
Why does Apple use this method now and not in earlier versions of iOS? Earlier versions of Apple’s iPhone OS relied on Skyhook as it’s provider for location data. Since then, though, Apple has terminated its contract with Skyhook and now manages its own location database.
Apple says it will encrypt the database in the next major iOS software release. The next minor iOS update will reduce the size of the crowdsourced database (Apple makes a point of repeating “crowdsourced” throughout its announcement) and ensure that the database is not backed up when the device is synced with a computer. When a user turns off Location Services, the updated iOS will also delete the cache.