Steve Jobs, Phil Schiller, and Scott Forstall discuss iOS location controversy

Wed, Apr 27, 2011


In light of the much ballyhooed location tracking controversy, which really shouldn’t have been controversial in the first place, All Things D today conducted a telephone interview with Apple CEO Steve Jobs and other executives where they discussed the issue in question at length.

When this controversy first started to spread out of control last week, Apple remained typically silent on the matter, aside from a cryptic email from Jobs relaying that the information floating around in the media was false. That said, Jobs was asked why it took Apple so long to address the issue that aroused the interest of politicians in Washington and how long Apple was working on its response.

“We’re an engineering-driven company,” Jobs explained. “When people accuse us of things, the first thing we want to do is find out the truth. That took a certain amount of time to track all of these things down. And the accusations were coming day by day. By the time we had figured this all out, it took a few days. Then writing it up and trying to make it intelligible when this is a very high-tech topic took a few days. And here we are less than a week later.”

Joining Apple on the call were Apple Senior VP of worldwide marketing Phil Schiller and Senior VP of iOS software Scott Forstall.

Jobs also reiterated that Apple gets consent from its users to use their location and they don’t track any body’s location at all. Rather, and as explained in Apple’s press release earlier today, Jobs said that the information people mistook for personal location data on their iPhone is in actuality a crowd-sourced database of Wi-Fi and cell tower hotspots that can sometimes be located over 100 miles from a user’s actual location.

When asked about what Apple’s learned from the events over the past week, Forstall responded:

One thing I think we have learned is that the cache we had on the system–the point of that cache, is we do all the location calculations on the phone itself so no location calculations are done separately. You can imagine in an ideal world the entire crowdsourced database is on the phone and it just never has to talk to a server to do these calculations (or) to even get the cache.

What we do is we cache a subset of that. We picked a size, around 2MB, which is less than half a song. It turns out it was fairly large and could hold items for a long time.

We had that protected on the system. It had root protection and was sandboxed from any other application. But if someone hacks their phone and jailbreaks it, they can get to this and misunderstand the point of that.

It’s all anonymous and cannot be traced back to any individual phone or person. But we need to be even more careful about what files are on the phone, even if they are protected.

Jobs then chimed in and explained that with the advent of any new technology, a period of adjustment and education is required. That said, Jobs said that Apple and the industry at large haven’t done an adequate job of educating people about what the technology they have is sometimes doing and is capable of.

Next, Jobs said that Apple is planning on particpating in Congress’ hearing on the matter while pointedly stating that that it’ll be “interesting to see how agressive or lazy the press is on this in terms of investigating the rest of the participants in the industry and finding out what they do. Some of them don’t do what we do. That’s for sure.”

Our take is that because this scandal involving Apple turned out to be not a scandal at all, many members of the press will care less about what Apple and other companies have to say about privacy issues to Congress.

Lastly, Jobs was asked if there was an ETA for his return to working full-time, to which he replied: “Look, we’re here to talk about location today, not me.”

The full transcript can be viewed on All Things D over here.


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