NEW YORK - Facing scrutiny from consumers and lawmakers over data collection on its iPhone, Apple said Wednesday it isn't tracking customers' location and plans to retain less information on the device.
“Apple is not tracking the location of your iPhone,” the Cupertino, California-based company said in a statement. “Apple has never done so and has no plans to ever do so.”
Apple and Google have been at the center of a growing debate over whether mobile-phone location technologies breach privacy rules. The companies’ current practices, which can be used to deliver more targeted advertising and to help users find nearby services, have sparked consumer lawsuits and inquiries in Congress.
Motorola Mobility Holdings and Samsung Electronics are among the companies that make phones using Google’s Android software.
Apple has sold more than 108 million iPhones since the device debuted in 2007. White models of the iPhone 4, the device’s newest iteration, will be available starting today, the company said in a separate statement. The black iPhone 4 went on sale last June.
Apple’s statement Wednesday on the tracking issue, its first since criticism emerged, probably won’t immediately assuage consumers, said Andy Hargreaves, an analyst with Pacific Crest Securities.
The iPhone saves information on Wi-Fi hotspots and cellular towers near the device’s current location and accesses the data when needed by users, Apple said. The company can’t locate a user based on the hotspots and tower data, and the information the company receives on locations is anonymous. The data shows Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers near a phone.
The use of Wi-Fi hotspots and cell tower locations helps the iPhone more quickly calculate its location compared to using a global position system, which can take up to several minutes, Apple said. The information, sent in encrypted form to Apple, is being used to create a “crowd-sourced” database that the company said will be used to help create a traffic service in the next couple of years. The company plans a free software update that will reduce the amount of data stored on the iPhone and allow customers to delete hotspot and cell tower information by turning off the location services, Apple said.