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South Korea, Europe investigating Apple over iOS location-tracking

iPhone TrackerSouth Korea’s communications regulator has launched an investigation of Apple following last week’s revelation that iOS devices are quietly recording timestamped location information. Bloomberg has reported that the South Korean Communications Commission has already asked Apple to answer a number of questions including how often the data is collected, whether or not users have the ability to delete the information and if any files are transmitted to Apple’s servers.

The controversy erupted last week after a pair of researchers announced that they had uncovered an unencrypted file where iPhones and 3G-ready iPads store longitude-latitude coordinates that correspond to the devices’ locations at given times. It was also revealed that the file is transferred to computers when the devices are connected to iTunes for synching or backups. The file is unencrypted by default, but can be set to be encrypted through iTunes. The researchers released a free application that displays the location information on a map.

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South Korea is not the only nation to take interest in the location recording. Shortly after story appeared in the media, tech-savvy Senator Al Franken along with Congressman Ed Markey sent letters to Apple asking for an official explanation from the company. France, Germany and Italy have also reportedly launched their own separate investigations.

On Monday, The Wall Street Journal published a report that found that iPhones and iPads continue to record timestamped location information even after location services have been turned off. It’s been suspected that location information is determined through cell tower signals and Wi-FI access points (the recorded locations appear to far too inaccurate to be GPS-based). So far, there’s no evidence that the information is being sent back to Apple or to any other party.

Apple has yet to give its official account of the controversy. John Gruber of Daring Fireball last week suggested that the whole affair was probably the result of an accidental bug within iOS 4 and would likely be corrected in a forthcoming firmware update.

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