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Will KCC have any teeth against Apple?

Regulator losing public confidence for failing to maintain momentum in queries 


With Apple yet to break its silence over location data, local authorities face an uphill battle in determining whether the situation warrants real concern.

The Korea Communications Commission, the state-run communications regulator, has formally relayed its worries about personal information storage to Apple Inc., the maker of iPhones and iPads, but many believe this was always a losing battle.

Industry watchers point out that Apple has already stated that the information does not tell where or when the user has been, but rather where the phone was.

Last year, Apple also informed U.S. congressmen that the purpose of the location information is to maintain a comprehensive location database.

“The KCC already has the answer to its questions, which is that Apple is probably abiding by local laws,” said one industry source, declining to be identified.

U.S. media reports last week revealed accusations that all Apple devices with iOS4 regularly collect and save information on where the device is, and when. The information is sent to Apple’s main server, according to the reports.

It would not be the first time that the KCC has issued warnings or requested information or explanations from overseas-based communication companies.

In some cases, the KCC has flexed its muscles, such as when it issued guidelines to help improve after-sales services for iPhones.

But after the initial flurry of excitement, most cases disappeared, partly because the media and the rest of the public lost interest, but often because the requests or demands were not based on concrete findings or evidence, critics said.


An Apple Inc. iPhone 4 is displayed on a MacBook Pro in Washington, D.C., in the United States. (Bloomberg)
An Apple Inc. iPhone 4 is displayed on a MacBook Pro in Washington, D.C., in the United States. (Bloomberg)
This photo shows the locations logged by the smartphone of a Korean man.
This photo shows the locations logged by the smartphone of a Korean man.
Also, toward foreign firms with a significant global presence and closed-door policies, the KCC has rarely been able to sink its teeth in.

Rash comments from the KCC chairman Choi Si-joong, such as that he would “somehow” force telecom companies to refrain from charging users for text messages, which make up about 3 to 5 percent of their total sales, have not helped build confidence in the regulator.

Many now believe it will now just be a matter of time before Apple speaks up, after which the KCC would be able to drop the case.

“The answer won’t have to be perfect, since just as long as Apple shows some effort, the authorities probably won’t have anything more to say,” said one industry source who chose to remain anonymous.

“Look at Google,” she added.

The KCC retreated on Google, even though some users may still be uneasy about the information being gathered.

Google had come under fire along with Apple for collecting similar information from its Android phone users, but the KCC seemingly dropped its case altogether.

“We have explained the anonymous nature of the information we gather and that users have a choice of not giving out such information, and this seems to be enough for now,” said Google Korea spokeswoman Park Seon-kyeong.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs allegedly denied location tracking, but these reports have yet to be confirmed.

The KCC, however, claims it will pursue Apple until it gets “some answers,” because it is “a matter of grave concern,” said Kim Kwang-su, director of the privacy protection and ethics division at the KCC.

But skepticism lingers, especially due to the lack of concern from Korean users.

People have raised concerns, but not as much as those in the U.S. where lawsuits are already being filed against Apple. The Internet, which typically sees a wave of discussions when there is significant concern and interest, failed to generate much talk on the location information storage.

“I am a little concerned, I guess, but I also feel that it all comes with living in this smart device era,” said Cho Yu-mi, an employee at a local financial company.

By Kim Ji-hyun (jemmie@heraldcorp.com)

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