SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Apple said last week that it will provide a software fix for the iPhone's hidden location tracking file that a pair of researchers brought to light last week.
The tracking file has useful and legitimate purposes, Apple said in a list of questions and answers about the file posted on its website. But the fact that the file stores up to a year's worth of data and continues to record data even when iPhone users turn off its location service is due to software "bugs," Apple said.
"We don't think the iPhone needs to store more than seven days of this data" when users opt into the service, Apple said.
The company said it would fix the issues in an upcoming free release of the iOS software that underlies the iPhone and Apple's other mobile devices. The company said it also will cease backing up the data to users' computers.
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Brought to light by two researchers at the Where 2.0 conference, the tracking file stores the locations of nearby cell phone towers and Wi-Fi hotspots. The iPhone uses the data to help approximate its location quickly for mapping and other applications that require location data, Apple said. The tracking file also helps the iPhone lock onto GPS satellites much more quickly than it would be able to do without it, the company said.
Apple is not tracking individual iPhones, the company insisted. The location tracking file doesn't have the exact coordinates of iPhones and often includes the location data of cell phone towers hundreds of miles away from the location of a particular iPhone.
But the location file can provide important details about where iPhone users have been and frequent, say the researchers who brought the location file to light and forensics researchers who comb digital devices for hidden data.