Within four of Apple's social networking patents that have come to light in 2010, the most prominent trend of all has been that of location awareness technology. There have been a number of articles written on the dangers of such a feature, one being "PleaseRobMe and the Dangers of Location-Based Social Networks." During Apple's iPhone OS 4 event held on Thursday, Scott Forstall took to the stage to discuss a number of features coming to the iPhone – with multitasking being the most interesting of all. Within this segment, Forstall focused on a new feature-set relating to "Background Location." This report focuses on this brief yet very important feature-set that is directly related to consumer security. As location awareness technology and social networking apps explode on the market over the coming years, you're going to want to know that the iPhone has safeguards in place for you and your family's protection.
iPhone Feature: Background Location
Scott Forstall reviewed one of the advances coming to iPhone OS 4 called Background location – in context with multitasking. In the first half of his presentation on this topic he covered apps like TomTom that continuously monitor your location with full GPS power in your vehicle to give you turn-by-turn instructions - and then an app like Loopt - for social networking. Yet in the second half of Forstall's presentation on this very point, he focused on background-location security. The following is Patently Apple's transcript of this segment:
"For all these location things, we take privacy very, very seriously. Ever since we added the first API's for location, we would put up a panel whenever an application wanted to use your location – and the user would have to approve this. We're taking privacy several steps further – in iPhone OS 4."
First, we're adding an indicator right on the status bar to let you know if any application is asking for your location. Be it a foreground application or one of the background applications – so you could know if something is tracking your location."
"Next – we're adding fine grain settings – so you could see all of the application that would like to use your location and the user can enable or disable location, per application."
"And on top of all of this, if any application has asked for your location in the last 24 hours, we'll add an indicator right next to that app – so you could know that it's asked for your location.
So we're being completely transparent on the usage of location and we're letting user set, on an app-by-app basis, the ability for apps to use location. And that's Background Location," concluded Forstall.
At the end of the day, Apple's iPhone OS 4 "Background Location" feature-set goes a long way in providing consumers with the tools that they currently need to secure their location from prowlers of one sort or another. As social networking apps become more commonplace in the future, I'm sure that new security scenarios will arise that will require yet more advanced security solutions. While it'll be an ongoing battle, no doubt – Mr. Forstall has made it crystal clear that Apple takes security - very, very seriously. And at present, I see no reason to doubt them on this point.
It should be noted that the new "Background Location" feature will only be available for the 3G iPhone and the third generation iPod touch this summer - while the iPad will gain it this fall. Older iPhones and second generation iPod touches will not be able to upgrade fully to OS 4 because the underlying technology isn't available on these units.
The iPhone development team headed by Scott Forstall made security a front-and-center-issue very early into the iPhone's development. In a 2008 patent filing, made public in February of this year, we see that Apple covered security extensively.
The other published patents covering the topic of "social networking" this year include:Apple Reveals 3D-Like UI for Social Networking App & More, iGroups: Apple's New iPhone Social App in Development and Apple iPhone to Gain Social Networking & Public Transit Apps. All of these reports could be found in our newly created search-category Tech: Social.