Apple Puts Location Data Hype to Rest

Dave Courbanou

April 28, 2011

2 Min Read
Apple Puts Location Data Hype to Rest

Apple has officially addressed the iPhone tracking conspiracies with a press release detailing a lengthy Q&A about what Apple is doing with the consolidated.db file.  Not surprising, the iPhone is not at all tracking you. More interesting is what the file is really used for. Read on for the straight facts without the hype …

You can read the lengthy press release here, but the short version is this:

Conslidated.db serves one purpose — to act as a database of cell towers and Wi-Fi hotspots the iPhone has connected to. When you use location-based services, the iPhone can use the information in that file rather than waiting for a GPS signal, and triangulate your exact location, even in an area of poor reception. What’s more, all the data that’s in that consolidate.db file isn’t all your data. It’s an amalgamation of anonymous crowd-sourced locations that have been stored and shared via an encrypted cache from Apple.

Apple cannot, and does not, locate and track users when obtaining this information, because again, this information is anonymous, and not a precise GPS coordinate. Instead, it’s merely a geo-tagged location of a cell tower or Wi-Fi hotspot.

Apple does, however, admit to some wrongdoing, conceding that when location services are turned off, the iPhone should stop updating the Wi-Fi and cell tower data. It currently fails to do this, which has caused the amount of data that the consolidate.db file keeps to continually grow. It’s a known bug, and Apple plans on fixing this issue. (To give you an idea of amount of information the consolidate.db file stores, the file on my own iPhone was almost 10MB.) Apple plans on adjusting the amount of data kept in the file to just the past seven days.

A software update is coming soon, which will automatically remove the consolidated.db file from iTunes backups in an effort to maintain as much privacy as possible.

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