iPhone tracks your every move - How worried are you?
Summary:The iPhone is tracking your every move, and secretly logging this information to a file kept on the handset. When you sync your handset with your PC or Mac, that file is copied over to your system. Anyone with access to your handset or computer could get their hands on this information.How uneasy does that make you feel?
The iPhone (and the 3G enabled iPad) is tracking your every move, and secretly logging this information to a file kept on the handset. When you sync your handset with your PC or Mac, that file is copied over to your system. Anyone with access to your handset or computer could get their hands on this information.
How uneasy does that make you feel?
The data is based on cellphone tower triangulation estimates of your position (which isn't as accurate as GPS, but still accurate enough to get a pretty solid fix on your location) and is stored in latitude and longitude format, along with the date and time (and other data such as altitude, vertical accuracy, course and confidence). Your iPhone has been doing this since the iOS 4.0 update released in June 2010. There doesn't seem to be a way to stop this data collection.
Using a tool called iPhoneTracker you can take this data and display it on a map.
I can already predict how people will respond to this. Essential they'll fall into two groups;
Those who see it as a massive invasion of privacy
Those who don't see it as a big deal, since mobile operators already have and store this kind data, while the file on the iPhone is effectively private in comparison (I agree with ZDNet Editor-in-Chief Larry Dignan when he says that most Apple fans would opt-in to this sort of tracking. "Most of you will like this tracking idea and scream: Track me Steve Jobs. Please!"
Personally, I think it's a big deal. I'm not big on conspiracy theories so I don't believe that Steve Jobs sits in front of a massive screen showing the location of every iPhone, and I don't believe that there's anything nefarious behind this data collection (Apple could have encrypted the file if that was the case, making its discover more difficult). In fact, I think that Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at the security company Sophos, is spot on with the following assessment:
"I tend to subscribe to cockup rather than conspiracy on things like this - I don't think Apple is really trying to monitor where users are."
But that's not to say that this isn't a big deal. It is a very big deal. Not only does this make the whole matter of Antennagate seem trivial, it could have regulatory implications for Apple in much the same way that Google drew the attention of the UK government to itself with Latitude back in 2009.
It's a big deal because there's no opt-out, and no way for the user to have a say in whether the data is collected or not. As far as I am aware, the iPhone is the only handset that stores this kind of data. If there's no point to this data, it should be collected and stored. If there is some point to it, Apple needs to say what that is and offer users a clear opt-out. The current situation represents a blatant abuse of user's right to privacy. When you broadcast your location using FourSquare (polluting my Twitter stream ;) you are doing so voluntarily. The same when you geotag a post on Twitter or Facebook. The same when you turn on MobileMe's "Find My iPhone." The difference with this logging is that it happens behind your back and you have zero control over it.
Apple needs to come clean as to why the iPhone does this, and give users a way to disable/clear the logging. That's what SHOULD happen. What I think will happen is that this 'feature' will quitely be dropped from iOS at some point in the future without so much as a word from Apple about it. That's how Apple seems to roll.
Here's what Apple's terms and conditions have to say on the matter of location-based services:
To provide location-based services on Apple products, Apple and our partners and licensees may collect, use, and share precise location data, including the real-time geographic location of your Apple computer or device. This location data is collected anonymously in a form that does not personally identify you and is used by Apple and our partners and licensees to provide and improve location-based products and services. For example, we may share geographic location with application providers when you opt in to their location services.
Some location-based services offered by Apple, such as the MobileMe "Find My iPhone" feature, require your personal information for the feature to work.
Adrian Kingsley-Hughes is an internationally published technology author who has devoted over a decade to helping users get the most from technology -- whether that be by learning to program, building a PC from a pile of parts, or helping them get the most from their new MP3 player or digital camera.Adrian has authored/co-authored technic...
All opinions expressed on Hardware 2.0 are those of Adrian Kingsley-Hughes. Every effort is made to ensure that the information posted is accurate. If you have any comments, queries or corrections, please contact Adrian via the email link here. Any possible conflicts of interest will be posted below. [Updated: February 23, 2010] - Adrian Kingsley-Hughes has no business relationships, affiliations, investments, or other actual/potential conflicts of interest relating to the content posted so far on this blog.