The data collection is apparently covered by Apple's terms and conditions
Apple’s iPhone location grab is more complicated than first thought, according to security experts.
Yesterday it emerged that Apple’s iPhone 4 was collecting location data that could be used to build a record of consumer whereabouts by anyone with access to the handset or a synchronised PC.
The researchers stressed that the information wasn’t sent to Apple, but according to security firm F-Secure - citing details outlined by forensic researcher Alex Levinson - the data collection is nothing new and could be part of efforts by Apple to develop a Wi-Fi hotspot mapping database.
The information and the GPS co-ordinates are stored on the device and added to the information sent to Apple
The researchers said that the information was only sent with user permission and had been included in Apple’s terms and conditions for the last year. The details were explained in a letter from Apple to US lawyers, when they queried changes to the terms and conditions.
“For GPS-enabled devices with location-based capabilities toggled to 'On', Apple automatically collects Wi-Fi Access Point Information and GPS co-ordinates when a device is searching for a cellular network,” the company explained.
”The information and the GPS co-ordinates are stored (or 'batched') on the device and added to the information sent to Apple.”
However, F-Secure criticised the way Apple obtained permission, claiming the company’s opt-in box referred to “diagnostics” rather than “location” in the dialogue asking for permission.
Apple has yet to respond to requests for information on the subject, leaving security researchers to speculate on why the company was collecting the information.
“We don't know for sure, but we're guessing it's related to Apple's global location database,” Mikko Hypponen, senior research officer at F-Secure on a company blog.
“Like Google, Apple maintains a global database of the locations of Wi-Fi networks to get an estimate of your location without using GPS," he said.
“The real question is: How did Apple create their location database? They did not have cars driving around the world [like Google]. They didn't need to. They had existing iPhone owners around the world do the work for them.”