Students divided over controversial iPhone tracking

Susan Du

Apple Inc. has recently come under fire for allegedly tracking the location of its iPad and iPhone users in secret. The controversy surrounding the issue has caught the attention of German privacy watchdogs, the Korea Communications Commission, the Taipei City government, American lawmakers and Apple users worldwide.

According to an April 20 post on computer technology blog O’Reilly Radar, which originally leaked the story, time-stamped longitude and latitude coordinates are constantly being stored in a file on the devices themselves. The files then automatically sync with any computer to which they are connected. Because the files are unprotected, they can be viewedby anyone with access to the devices or to any computer with which the devices has ever been synced.

As the reason for Apple’s tracking efforts remains unclear, technology bloggers and journalists have speculated that CEO Steve Jobs plans to sell the information to advertisers. However, it is not yet clear whether any data is being sent back to Apple.

In response to the growing controversy, Jobs issued a statement Monday denying that Apple tracks users for purposes other than gathering geographical information for providing location services. However, the allegations stand that the iPhone continues to track locations even when users choose to turn off the function.

Jobs said many mobile phone companies engage in similar tracking and that the practice is actually quite comMonday, but some Northwestern students are skeptical of Apple’s ethics.

“I don’t think they should be tracking people,” Weinberg junior Matt Keith said. “If a device or phone does, they should let people know a lot sooner than it getting leaked.”

One consequence Apple must face in the wake of the tracking issue is compromised customer trust. Weinberg sophomore Jesse Yuan, who used to have an iPhone, said Apple’s lack of transparency shows disrespect for its customers.

“I still think their products are high quality,” Yuan said. “I do think that as the company gets bigger, they don’t value customer privacy as much as they did before.”

Still, other students are undisturbed by rumors that Apple may be tracking their locations for a profit. Weinberg freshman Katherine Barnes said she’d rather give Jobs the benefit of the doubt.

“I guess it’s a little weird, but I don’t really care,” Barnes said. “I feel they wouldn’t really use it for anything negative.”

Medill freshman Megan Neunan , who owns a Mac laptop as well as an iPhone, iPod and iPad, said she’d rather not worry about it.

“It’s definitely not on the radar of my concerns,” Neunan said. “I really think it’s just a lot of hype. The company’s too big. They’ll deal with it. They wouldn’t let this turn into too big of an issue.”

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