Apple releases iOS 4.3.3 to patch location bugs

Underpromise and overdeliver—always a good strategy. Apple said it would take a few weeks to issue an iOS update to fix a handful of bugs related to the storage of location data, but it’s taken just seven days between that announcement and the appearance of iOS 4.3.3.

iOS contains a cache of location information, pictured above, that was also synced to Macs and PCs via iTunes.

As Apple promised in its location Q&A last week, iOS 4.3.3 addresses three bugs related to the database of location information on iOS devices. Firstly, it reduces the amount of the cached location information to a week’s worth, rather than relying on a size limit, as it previously did. Secondly, it no longer backs up the cache to your Mac or PC via iTunes upon syncing, so the information isn’t available to anyone with access to your computer. And finally, the cache is now deleted from the device when Location Services are disabled in iOS’s Settings app. Apple has also announced plans to encrypt the location information on iOS devices itself in the next major update to the operating system, which presumably refers to iOS 5.

The iOS 4.3.3 update applies to the iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, iPad, iPad 2, third-generation iPod touch, and the fourth-generation iPod touch. The odd men out, though, are the iPhone 3G and the second-generation iPod touch, both of which were supported by the original release of iOS 4—when the location database is believed to have been created—but have since been dropped from compatibility. The CDMA iPhone got a separate update today, in the form of iOS 4.2.8 which fixes the same location bugs, but leaves that device short of the other features of iOS 4.3.

These quick, efficient fixes should go a long way to settling concerns over the discovery of stored location data that sparked an outcry last month. The worries have even prompted a Congressional hearing on mobile privacy, scheduled for May 10, in which Apple CEO Steve Jobs said the company will participate.

Updated at 11:55 a.m. PT to add a note on the iOS 4.2.8 update for CDMA iPhones.

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