Tribble went to great lengths to clarify that the iOS location database was not intended to track users, but rather to use the phone’s location information (triangulated via nearby cell towers and Wi-Fi access points) to help the device offer location-centric services - like Maps, for instance.
“We do not share customer information with third parties without our customers’ explicit consent. Apple does not track users’ locations. Apple has never done so and has no plans to do so,” said Tribble.
Tribble went to elaborate that, “The local cache is protected with iOS security features, but it is not encrypted. Beginning with the next major release of iOS, the operating system will encrypt any local cache of the hotspot and cell tower location information,” he promised.
Apple’s next iOS release (iOS 5) may be announced as early as next month at the company’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference.
He also made it clear that, “Prior to the [iOS 4.3.3] update, iTunes backed up the local cache (stored in consolidated.db) as part of the normal device backup if there was a syncing relationship between the device and a computer.”
“The iTunes backup, including consolidated.db, may or may not have been encrypted, depending on the customer's settings in iTunes. After the software update, iTunes does not back up the local cache."
Interestingly enough, the United States Department of Justice reportedly expressed its wish to have mobile providers expressly allow DOJ access to records that would “enable law enforcement to identify a suspect’s smartphone based on the IP addresses collected by Web sites that the suspect visited.”