Much has been written and said following the revelation that Apple’s devices maintain a database (to use the term loosely) with entries, that, properly parsed, can be used to demonstrate more or less where the iPhone has been geographically over the course of it’s little iLife.
So: Is this a problem, and if so, how much of one? Given my personal penchant for privacy, it’s certainly a disconcerting notion that Apple could be tracking my every move – frankly, this is one reason I avoid Google products. I prefer to pay for my devices with cash rather than personal information, but that’s another post.
This doesn’t concern me in the least, and it won’t until evidence emerges that this information is being used for anything other than the practical performance of the device in an ongoing basis. Apple has denied, and there is no evidence to suggest, that anyone or anything other than the iPhone itself which collects this information, ever sees it.
There is of course the argument that, should the phone fall into the wrong-hands, some shadowy character (or law enforcement) could obtain a record of your whereabouts. This is a legitimate woe, but as far as I’m concerned, you can toss it on the pile with all the other concerns I’d have if my iPhone fell into the wrong hands. My phone is full of private information – much of which I am consciously aware is already geo-tagged. Admissibility in court is an entirely different consideration, since the recorded data is cursory at best and completely wrong in some cases.
Apple hasn’t clearly stated why the device collects geographic location information over time. If I were to guess, I’d assume that by knowing which cell phone towers and wifi hotspots the phone has associated itself with at a given geographical point in the past, the performance of network services can be optimized to rely on knowledge of given infrastructure rather than having to seek it afresh out every time the device arrives in a previously visited location. This is of course only an assumption, but the implication that this information is useful only for some dark design beyond than making the phone work as best as possible is arguably a bit more outlandish.
Does practical use override the principle? In some users minds, I suppose it might – but in my mind, it’s long been a foregone conclusion that this kind of behavior occurs with devices that deal in location awareness.