The iPhone Dev-Team take a break from the Jailbreak to throw some light on the issue of 3rd party iPhone apps tracking users' location. Joey Hess and our friends over at PreCentral.net kicked up a bit of a ruckus last week detailing how the Palm Pre reports users' location data back to Palm HQ. Well, says the Dev-Team:
Although we have yet to find an application by Apple that tracks your location, there are certainly a number of “free” applications in the official AppStore that are designed to do just that. Case in point: there’s this rather cute/gimicky app that lets you determine the tip for your waiter or waitress by tilting your phone as you pass it around the restaurant table. But if you dig a little deeper (like bushing did) you’ll find it uses a library by Pinch Media that is specifically designed to track your geographical location through time, then upload that data to Pinch Media. (Oh and it also show you an ad, as an extra bonus).
They point out that the iPhone will ask before any app is allowed to use location data, but also that it will keep asking to the extent that users might just agree to prevent being constantly annoyed with popups.
The Dev-Team goes so far as to describe these types of apps using the dreaded "s" word. That's right -- SPYWARE. However, in a web increasingly dominated by companies seeking to aggregate (hopefully anonymized?!) user data as a way to monetize (providing free or cheap apps in exchange for the shared data and tolerance for advertising), how broadly can that term now be applied? Many, especially tech-savvy, users are happy to let Google's Gmail scan their email and serve ads in exchange for the service (and don't even get us started on Chrome parsing all URLs a user enters through Google, or their purchase of DoubleClick...)
Should we be concerned more about small, 3rd party companies? About Apple, Palm, and Google-type companies? Or is it just the way of the world now?
How about this -- Perhaps Apple could give us app-specific Location settings, much as we now have app-specific Notification settings? That way, there'd be a list of apps that use location, and we could individually turn off those with which we don't want to share our location. How about it, Apple?