LocationGate: The counterattack

April 26, 2011, 12:11 PM UTC

Cooler heads have started to respond to the smartphone data flap, but it may be too late

Screengrab from iPhone Tracker

“If there is anything less appropriate than a technologically ignorant media covering the subtleties of the manufactured LocationGate phony-scandal,” writes Roughly Drafted‘s Daniel Eran Dilger, in a post perhaps too subtle for his usual AppleInsider audience, “it’s the investigative policing by US and EU politicians who have suspended their efforts to rectify the economy, housing, employment and various other natural and man-made disasters in order to tackle the idea of whether smartphones might be recording one’s location the same way mobile towers and phone companies have since the beginning of mobile telephony.”

“People would be similarly freaked out, if not more so, if they saw how much Facebook and Google know about them,” wrote Marco Arment, the co-founder of Tumblr and creator of Instapaper, striking a similar theme:

“Web services store the data themselves, outside of your control, and can keep it forever. They can access your ‘private’ data whenever they want, and they can aggregate everyone else’s data to deduce even more about you (and everyone else) than what you thought they knew. A security breach — or a lucrative business deal — can expose the private data of thousands or millions of people at once, and law enforcement agencies can usually get whatever information they want extremely easily because it’s not worth most services’ time or money to argue with them.”

The difference between Apple, which is primarily motivated by the money it can make selling devices that can help you quickly locate your position in space, and companies that get most of their revenue selling information about you to advertisers, may explain the cryptic e-mail exchange attributed Monday to Steve Jobs:

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.

Jobs, if that was indeed he, may have been making a distinction that was also a shade too subtle. If so, Apple’s spin doctors will have plenty of opportunities to flesh out the argument. Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOG) have both been summoned to appear before a Senate judiciary hearing in May. Investigations have been launched by French, German, Italian and South Korean regulators. And Apple has been sued in a Florida Federal court by two guys who bought an iPhone and an iPad and want their money back.

Also on Fortune.com:

[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]