Today at the O’Reilly Where 2.0 Conference, Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden revealed an unencrypted file in the iOS 4 that records your GPS locations and timestamps. If you own an iPhone or a 3G iPad that runs iOS 4, then your location stats have been gathered and then sent over to Cupertino via iTunes. I’m not going to into the details about this since the source link does a pretty thorough job. I’m also not going to lambast the people crying about Apple’s blatant breach of our privacy and El-Jobso proving once again that he is an evil Silicon Valley overlord. Actually, I think I will. Get your heads out of your asses. Your location is tracked on a daily basis more accurately than your occasional use of your iPhone’s GPS. Do you use a credit card? Your location is tracked with each purchase. Do you use a membership club, like a gym card or a supermarket club card? Your location is being tracked every time you use it. Do you use the internet? Every time you log in to your email, social network, or other website your login location is recorded and stored. Oh, and I almost forgot the big ones: FourSquare or Facebook Places. Are you using those? Then STFU. No matter what you do you are being directly or indirectly tracked by companies for their internal use, so the fact that Apple is gathering and recording your GPS locations isn’t a huge surprise, considering that it is planning on launching a Google Maps equivalent in the near future.
Wait what? Yes, conveniently everyone seems to have forgotten that Apple purchased Canadian map startup Poly9 back in 2010 and Placebase back in 2009. It seems that people are too busy marching towards Cupertino headquarters, banging their war drums and calling demanding for an explanation as to why their precious privacy is being breached. Apple doesn’t snatch up two map and location based services for no reason. In fact, it’s Apple’s mantra to take a product or service and then redevelop it internally until it fits its standards and expectations. Given the time passed since both Placebase and Poly9 were grabbed by Apple, it would be safe to assume that Apple is now working on revolutionizing tweaking its GPS algorithms. Hence why Apple is gathering your GPS info. It isn’t interested in where you’ve been as much as it is with how you got there. It’s analyzing and studying user stats from Google Maps and saying, “this is how Google does it. Can we make it better?” The same results can be achieved with sending out a team of employees to travel around the world but this is a far less costly and more effective method.
I’ve always been wary of the Apple-Google relationship. Ever since Google became Apple’s direct competitor with Android the relationship between the two soured and I’ve wondered, are they in a “can’t live with them, can’t live without them” relationship? Google needs Apple because its one of its biggest licensees for its search and maps products. Apple needs Google because it offers the best maps and search alternatives out there that aren’t run by direct competitors like Microsoft (Bing) or Nokia (NAVTEQ). However, it is 2011 and that relationship is fizzling. Microsoft entered the mobile market with a bang and it does not rely on Google for its search and its maps. And with its new partnership with Nokia, Microsoft has access to NAVTEQ making it pointless to even give Google Maps a second thought. That leaves iOS and Android as the other two major competitors on the market. It’s a no-brainer that Android will continue to rely on Google search and Google Maps. But what if it loses Apple, the most dominant force in the mobile sector? With Blackberry in smartphone turmoil, Google is seeing the walls begin to close in on itself.
Granted this doesn’t mean that Google Maps will cease to exist for iOS. Like its other Google products, it will become available on the App Store as an addon. It also is unknown as what kind of backlash Apple will receive from its userbase when it rolls out its maps alternative as a stock feature on its devices. Google Maps is already so deeply integrated into our lives and our apps that Apple would need to do something completely…ahem…magical and revolutionary with its maps product to win over consumers and developers. Which brings us back to Apple gathering your GPS info. This is a good thing. In fact we should be cheering Apple on for collecting and meticulously studying our movement patterns. If there is anything the mobile industry needs, it is more innovation. Apple can do this, but not blindly. So please, don’t whine about this frivolous “privacy breach” everyone is crying about. Just remember that the next big thing in maps and GPS might make its appearance on the iPhone 6, and it never would have made it there without your help.
Source: O’Reilly Radar