Apple has begun collecting and storing the "real-time geographic location" of users' iPhones, iPads and other Apple devices, Dave Sarno at the Los Angeles Times reported this week. Now, the co-chairmen of House Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus, Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey and Texas Republican Joe Barton, want Apple CEO Steve Jobs to clarify how that data will be collected, stored and distributed. The company says the data is anonymous and does not personally identify users, but Sarno reports that "analysts have shown, however, that large, specific data sets can be used to identify people based on behavior patterns."
Apple claims that the data will remain anonymous and will not be used to identify individual users, but such "anonymized" systems of data storage are far from foolproof. In 2006, AOL released the search log data of some 685,000 users. While the data had been anonymized in AOL's research database, individual users could be easily identified by backtracking through their individual search logs. In 2007, Wired's Ryan Singel highlighted the use of ISPs to track down individual users and determine political or consumer preferences, despite the use of anonymized data. AT&T's iPad security breach from earlier this month is equally as disconcerting, highlighting the fact that despite Apple's legal promises, it's partners remain vulnerable.
With a geolocation advertising boom on the horizon, chances are Apple's new location-based data collection policy will not be out of the news for long.
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