May 17, 2020

Apple to Issue Software Update to Clear Cell Tower Cache

In the continuing controversy, that has now been dubbed Locationgate, about iPhones storing up to a years worth of cell tower information and syncing this with iTunes, Apple has now issued a press release to try and clarify the situation. In summary Apple is saying that the iPhone is not logging its location. Rather, it’s maintaining a database of Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers to help the phone rapidly and accurately calculate its location when requested. In other words a cache.

The press release also deals with why this cache contains entries for more than a year. Apples answer, “the reason the iPhone stores so much data is a bug.” According to ZDNet, Scott Forstall (the senior vice president of iOS Software) has revealed that the problem is actually the size of the cache and not explicitly how long it holds entries for, “we picked a size, around 2MB, which is less than half a song. It turns out it was fairly large and could hold items for a long time.”

OK, but when a user turns off Location Services, why does the iPhone sometimes continue updating its Wi-Fi and cell tower data?  Apple says, “It shouldn’t. This is a bug, which we plan to fix shortly.”

Apple’s argument is that it is legitimate to store cell tower information on a short term basis n the phone but because of bugs in iOS too much data is being stored. Apple is promsing an update to iOS in the near future which will

  • reduce the size of the crowd-sourced Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower database cached on the iPhone,
  • cease backing up this cache, and
  • delete this cache entirely when Location Services is turned off.

Apple is also promising that in the next major iOS software release (4.4? 5.0?) the cache will also be encrypted on the iPhone.

So is this the end of Locationgate? Please comment below.


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