This Friday a report from China’s state run China Central Television network claimed that the iPhone was a security threat as the Frequent Location feature in iOS could reveal sensitive information and “even state secrets.” This wasn’t the first time that state owned media has targeted Apple and its products. Apple has posted a politely worded yet firm statement about this report on its website, in both English and Chinese, explaining users with the Frequent Location feature actually does and how it is in no way a security threat to the people of China.
The company said that it does “appreciate CCTV’s effort to help educate customers” and wants to make sure that customers in China understand what it does and does not do when it comes to privacy and personal data.
Apple firmly states that it does not track users’ locations, it has never done that and doesn’t plan on doing so in the future. However to reduce time required to calculate the phone’s location using GPS alone, pre-stored hotspot and cell tower location data is used in combination with information about cell towers and hotspots the iPhone is receiving at any given time.
For this Apple maintains a crowd-sourced database of cell towers and hotspots collected from millions of devices. At no point is any data uniquely associated to a device or customer is ever transmitted.
iOS can capture Frequent Locations in order to provide information on commute in the Today view of the Notification Center. The locations are stored on the user’s device and are never backed up to iCloud or iTunes, and are stored in encrypted format. Moreover users have the ability to turn off Frequent Locations from Settings. Apple also says that it does not have access to a user’s cache of Frequent Locations.
In the end Apple reiterates its commitment to security and says that this is something it feels “very strongly” about.