Apple Defends Location Services to the U.S. Senate

Guy L. “Bud” Tribble, Vice President of Software Technology for Apple, spoke to members of the U.S. Senate on Tuesday. Responding to questions relating to users privacy and location services installed on the iPhone.

Tribble explained that user privacy is of the utmost importance to Apple. In late April, Apple issued a statement about the tracking of users with the iPhone. Apple vehemently denied ever tracking their users, stating they use the data for information about wifi hotspots and cell phone towers only. Tribble backed up and reiterated this information to the U.S. Senate. He stated Apple does not track users’ locations, and does not share personal information with third parties for marketing purposes without a user’s consent.

“Apple is strongly committed to giving our customers clear and transparent notice, choice and control over their information, and we believe our products do so in a simple and elegant way,” Tribble said before the Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law.

The hearing was held Tuesday morning, titled “Protecting Mobile Privacy: Your Smartphones, Tablets, Cell Phones and Your Privacy.”

Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, asked Tribble, how is Apple using the data to help the devices assess a user’s location? Steve Jobs, Apple CEO,  had said that the data collected is not the person’s actual location. He has said in that the cell tower and Wi-Fi hotspot location data could be points up to 100 miles away. Franken said he believes the fact that the data is used for location services makes Jobs’ statements seem contradictory.

The U.S. Senate committee asked if a privacy policy was in place and the answer was no. As a result, they proposed the both Apple and Google commit to a fixed privacy policy. Tribble said indicators should be placed in the user interface to make it clear what is being done with their information. He also stated that when an App is using location data an icon appears in the upper right hand corner of the screen. This notifies the user that location services are being accessed.

Later they discussed applications and how they can keep track of those using location services to maintain privacy for the users. Tribble explained that they work closely to watch for any suspicious activity and that most app developers consent to maintaining privacy to keep their app available in the iTunes Store.

Google was also at the hearing who discussed their practices relating to location services as well. They claim to use the data for the same reason as Apple.