Thursday, April 21, 2011

iPhones clandestinely track their users' locations

Apple devices appear to be tracking their owners' locations and storing data about people's whereabouts without their knowledge, according to a report posted Wednesday on a site called iPhone Tracker.

The illegal observation started in June 2010, when the newest version of Apple's mobile operating system was free, according to two researchers who say they discovered a hidden track folder and posted it out of concern for users.

Apple has not responded to the claims.

The researchers have posted a program online that will let any iPhone user see a map of his or her site over time, going back to June, when iOS 4.0 was released.

The program's developers, listed as Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden, say this data is stored on a person's iPhone or 3G-enabled iPad and on computers that are synced with those plans. There's no proof, they say, and that the data is also transmitting to Apple as it's collected.

"Cell phone providers collect similar data approximately inescapably as part of their operations, but it's kept behind their firewall. It usually requires a court order to gain access to it, whereas this is obtainable to anyone who can get their hands on your phone or computer," they write.

"By inertly classification your location without your consent, Apple have made it likely for anyone from a envious spouse to a private investigator to get a detailed picture of your movements."

The location data appear to be collected at chance intervals over time, using cell phone towers to triangulate approximate locations, they write.

They say these data are store in a file named "consolidated.db," and that it's "unclear" why Apple would collect this information.

"One guess might be that they have new features in mind that need a history of your location, but that's pure conjecture. The fact that it's moved across devices when you restore or migrate is evidence the data-gathering isn't accidental," they write on the iPhone Tracker site.

Some iPhone users expressed indignation at the news.

Sam Biddle, an editor at Gizmodo, used the downloadable program to map out his recent whereabouts, which he says was a frightening experience.

"This is a map of everywhere I've been for the last months. Everywhere," he writes on that tech site. "I didn't carry around a tracking device. The FBI isn't sending goons in unmarked vans to track me. All I did was use an iPhone."

He adds: "The data itself is jarringly accurate. Even though it appears to rely on tower triangulation rather than GPS pinpointing (meaning you're not safe with location services switched off), the map I was able to generate with mapping software the security duo released visualizes my life since the day I bought my iPhone 4 in July.

Everywhere I've been. Bus trips home. Train trips to visit family. Vacations. Places I'd forgotten I'd even gone. Zoom in on that giant blotch over New York, and you can see my travels, block by block.

"My entire personal and professional life -- documented by a phone I didn't know was also a tracking device.

It's all accessible -- where I've been, and when. I don't really have anything to hide, which is why I don't mind sharing the map. But it's just not right to have no choice in the matter; I don't want this information bouncing around in my pocket with me."

Others, including Forbes writer Kashmir Hill, wonder if this feature is "cool or creepy." She decides on "cool," writing that the program is "like a persistent, pervasive, secret location-diary."


  1. Yes, I remember reading that Apple had been approached by the govt. to include this tracking capability in the I-phones many years ago.

    Guess they got it.

    And it works!

  2. Hi! Whatcha doing trolling my blog? Is there something I can help you with? A response would be nice. Thanks.


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