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Facts, Schmacts: Apple and Google Build Creepware, but Won't Fess Up

For those wondering about Apple (AAPL) CEO Steve Jobs, there has been another sighting. No, not paparazzi photos of him looking gaunt as he sat in a doctor's waiting room, leaving through an old issue of Popular Mechanics. An email sighting reported by MacRumors has Jobs supposedly writing that Apple doesn't track anyone on the iPhone, no matter what people claim.

In this case, "people" is the WSJ and independent experts. The claim is that the iPhone stores location data, even when location services are turned off. Google (GOOG) Android apparently not only constantly collects location data, but sends it back to the mother ship. Google's half-baked explanation and Apple's failure to give straight answers on the issue puts both companies are in deep water. Trying to argue technicalities is useless when dealing with an emotional perception. And the perception in this case is creepiness.

Other than the putative Jobs email, Apple has used its now standard response to criticism: ignore any complaints until they're so bad that they're impossible to dodge. Jobs informally tried to extend his Patented Reality Distortion Field via email to keep the faithful in tow:

One MacRumors reader emailed Apple CEO Steve Jobs asking for clarification on the issue while hinting about a switch to Android if adequate explanations are not forthcoming. Jobs reportedly responded, turning the tables by claiming both that Apple does not track users and that Android does while referring to the information about iOS shared in the media as "false".
Q: Steve,Could you please explain the necessity of the passive location-tracking tool embedded in my iPhone? It's kind of unnerving knowing that my exact location is being recorded at all times. Maybe you could shed some light on this for me before I switch to a Droid. They don't track me.

A: Oh yes they do. We don't track anyone. The info circulating around is false.

Of course, it comes down to what "tracking" means. Send data back? Maybe not. Collect the data? Absolutely, as the iPhone has done for some time. Not just location data, for that matter. The device stores everything a user types for upwards of a year -- including passwords, user names, and search terms. Why does the location file remain if someone turns off location services? Why waste the storage space for data that shouldn't be necessary?

Maybe Apple was smart to keep largely mum, because Google's attempt at an explanation isn't much better:

"We provide users with notice and control over the collection, sharing and use of location in order to provide a better mobile experience on Android devices," a Google spokesman told the Wall Street Journal. The "opt-in" is a bit sneaky, though. When first setting up a phone, users are warned that by using location-enabled apps like Google Maps, they are consenting to send location data to Google at any time, even when those apps aren't in use.
And then Google claims to anonymize data when, in fact, it effectively ties the information to specific handsets. What makes this seem so tawdry is that mobile phones bring in significant revenue to both companies, each of which makes a lot of money. How much do they expect their customers to cough up in addition?

For Apple, Google, Facebook, and too many other companies, greed has become so entrenched that there is no such thing as making enough money off customers. And nothing wrong with making more money from those you do business with. However, when the customer is no longer aware that you use them, you've gone too far.


Image: morgueFile user wallyjr, site standard license.
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