Illinois AG Presses Apple, Google for Location Data Details

Published on April 25, 2011
by Ina Fried

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan on Monday said that she wants to know just what information is being tracked and stored by mobile devices from Apple and Google.

Madigan said in a statement that she had sent a letter to both companies asking them to detail exactly what information their devices are collecting, how long the information is stored and for what purposes.

“I want to know whether consumers have been informed of what is being tracked and stored by Apple and Google and whether those tracking and storage features can be disabled,” Madigan said in a statement. “It’s important that these companies ensure that their users’ private information is protected.”

Madigan is among the latest to raise questions over how the companies are dealing with location-based information following articles last week noting that, since the release of iOS 4, Apple devices have been keeping a detailed database of everywhere that iPhones and 3G-equipped iPads have been, storing the information in an unencrypted file.

The Wall Street Journal also noted that certain location-based information is also being sent to Apple and Google from their devices. In a separate story on Sunday night, the Journal noted that the iPhone appears to be storing the data whether or not users opt in to location-based services.

According to Bloomberg, the South Korean government is also looking into Apple’s data practices, and the first consumer lawsuits have appeared, filed in Florida.

Apple has declined to comment on its practices, including how much information is sent to the company, how long it is kept, how it is used and why the information is stored in an unencrypted file. However, its CEO reportedly responded to one customer’s mail with a terse comment. “We don’t track anyone. The info circulating around is false,” Jobs said in the email, as reported by MacRumors. Apple has declined to say whether the email is indeed from Jobs, though he is known to fire off short responses on occasion to customers who email him.

Google declined comment on Madigan’s letter, but defended its practices last week, noting that it collects information only from users who opt to receive location-based services such as custom search and mapping. The company has said the information collected is tied to a unique identifier that is specific to each Android device, but is not tied to other personal information, such as a Google ID.

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