Apple to store and share users’ real-time location data

Apple is collecting the precise, real-time location of iPhone and iPad users, and passing it on to other organisations.

The company has amended its privacy policy, and now requires users to  agree to the sharing of their location data.

“To provide location-based services on Apple products, Apple and our partners and licensees may collect, use, and share precise location data, including the real-time geographic location of your Apple computer or device,” reads the new paragraph.

“This location data is collected anonymously in a form that does not personally identify you and is used by Apple and our partners and licensees to provide and improve location-based products and ervices. For example, we may share geographic location with application providers when you opt in to their location services.”

Users have to agree to these terms before being allowed to purchase apps or media from the iTunes store.

Apple doesn’t say exactly who it plans to share the data with, or how long it will be kept. It says the data is anonymous and won’t identify users. But recent research has shown that it’s perfectly possible to identify individual users with this sort of data.

While there’s a ‘Location Services’ option under ‘settings’ which allows users to prevent apps from using location information, this does not stop Apple from gathering the information in the first place.

The only app that’s specifically mentioned is MobileMe’s uttebe extremely useful to adverrly altruistic Find My iPhone – and location data from this wouldn’t be of much interest to anyone except potential thieves.

But with Apple’s iAd platform about to launch, the data could be very useful to advertisers wanting, for example, to promote stores that are close to a user’s location.