Apple may have denied that it's tracking iPhone customers, but a patent application filed in 2009 suggests the company was planning to base services on a history of where a handset had been.
The iPhone manufacturer has come under fire following the public disclosure that handsets were collecting data from GPS and Wi-Fi signals – a data set that formed a record of the user's whereabouts on the handset and on synchronised computers.
Other handsets perform similar tasks, but Apple yesterday denied tracking users and claimed that only a bug in the system was causing the phone to store location data on handsets for up to a year. Even data detailing which cells and Wi-Fi hotspots were in range need only be kept for a week, the company said.
Yet this appears to contradict a patent application for “Location Histories for Location Aware Devices” that Apple filed with the US Patent and Trademark office in September 2009.
“A location-aware mobile device can include a baseband processor for communicating with one or more communication networks, such as a cellular network or Wi-Fi network,” Apple said in its patent application. “In some implementations, the baseband processor can collect network information (e.g., transmitter IDs) over time.”
The plan sounds almost identical to the data-accumulating file that landed Apple in hot water with privacy campaigners, after researcher revealed that the company was collecting mappable data on handset locations.
“Upon request, the network information can be translated to estimated position coordinates of the location-aware device for display on a map view or for other purposes,” the patent claimed.
“A user or application can query the location history database with a timestamp or other query to retrieve all or part of the location history for display in a map view. The location history can be used to construct a travel timeline for the location-aware device.”
The Apple patent also made it clear that it planned to create a searchable history of users' whereabouts. "The other information and location history can be part of a personal 'journal' for the user, which can be queried at a later time," the patent states.
This despite the claim yesterday that: "Apple is not tracking the location of your iPhone. Apple has never done so and has no plans to ever do so."
Apple also planned, according to the patent, to allow third parties to see this data trail in a bid to build services around the system.
“The travel timeline can be used by location-aware applications running on the location-aware device or on a network,” Apple said at the time. “In some implementations, an Application Programming Interface (API) can be used by an application to query the location history database.”
Apple's intentions may have changed from the time the patent was filed in 2009 to when the tracking utility was implemented in iOS 4. The company has so far to declined to comment on the patent.
Note: Thanks to greatkingrat_666 for the tip-off.