Apple investigated in France over iPhone location data

Apple is being questioned by the French technology regulator over location data being collected by users of iPhone handsets. The concern is that the iPhones' location feature tracks and stores users' movements without their consent or knowledge.

The ability of iPhones to monitor and record the whereabouts of users was first revealed in April by UK researchers Alasdair Allan and Peter Warden. They claimed the iPhone OS collects the longitude and latitude of owners' movements and stores the data on the handset. This information can then be retrieved by anyone with access to the handset.

According to Yann Padova, the head of France's CNIL, the government's technology consumer protection agency, two letters have been sent to Apple about the topic. "We received some clarifications, but they were not complete. The file is still under investigation," said Padova in a report carried by AFP.

Padova, who confirmed that the CNIL has examined the findings of Allan and Warden, said it appeared that the stored location data remained on the iPhone handset.

"Apple has worked on improving the information provided to its clients about the existence of this stored data," said the CNIL head, but he added that key technical questions remain unanswered, notably how Apple secures the data collected on its mobile devices.

In May, Apple issued its iOS 4.3.3 software update, which contained promised changes to the operating system's crowd-sourced location database cache and was a response to location-tracking concerns. iOS 4.3.3 reduced the size of the location database cache from up to a year to about a week, halted cache backup to iTunes and deleted the cache entirely when users disable their device's Location Services feature.

South Korea's regulator announced last Wednesday that it intended to impose a fine on Apple over the iPhone location feature, as it violated user privacy rules.

The CNIL said it could still impose fines on Apple if it finds evidence of wrongdoing.

For more:
- see this AFP article

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