Ina Fried

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Interview: Apple CEO Steve Jobs on How the iPhone Does and Doesn’t Use Location Information

Apple CEO Steve Jobs said Wednesday that the iPhone database that people have assumed was their personal information was, in fact, the relevant chunk of a global crowdsourced database that the company uses to deliver location-based information.

“We haven’t been tracking anyone,” Jobs said in a telephone interview with Mobilized on Wednesday. “The files they found on these phones, as we explained, it turned out were basically files we have built through anonymous, crowdsourced information that we collect from the tens of millions of iPhones out there.”

Last week, researchers drew attention to a file on iPhones that contained a trove of location data stretching back months, and concerns grew that the iPhone was keeping a record of everywhere it had been. Jobs reiterated that hasn’t been the case and highlighted Apple’s strict policies regarding how location information is used. The company did find a bug was leading this data cache to be stored even on phones that have location data turned off and pledged to fix that in a future update as well as to keep a smaller amount of data stored on the phone.

Jobs declined to comment on the practices of other companies, including Google, but stressed that Apple requires users to turn on location-based information and allow it for each application. It also gives people a way to see which applications have been using such information both at the time and over the past 24 hours.

Earlier on Wednesday, Apple issued a statement, noting that it isn’t tracking iPhone users’ locations, but acknowledging some bugs in the way location information has been collected and stored. It promised to change some of its practices in forthcoming software updates.

Jobs said that the tech industry hasn’t done a good job of educating users on what has been a fairly complicated issue.

“As new technology comes into the society there is a period of adjustment and education,” Jobs said. “We haven’t–as an industry–done a very good job educating people, I think, as to some of the more subtle things going on here. As such, (people) jumped to a lot of wrong conclusions in the last week.”

He said Apple looks forward to testifying before Congress and other regulatory bodies and said the company will do what it can to clarify things further.

“I think Apple will be testifying,” Jobs said. “They have asked us to come and we will honor their request, of course.”

Jobs also said it will be interesting to see how aggressively the press tracks the issue and looks at what other players in the industry do.

“Some of them don’t do what we do,” Jobs said. “That’s for sure.”

Jobs was joined in the interview by fellow Apple executives Scott Forstall and Phil Schiller. I’ll have a more detailed post with comments from all three executives up shortly.

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