Congressman asks Jobs to respond about consolidated.db

Congressman asks Jobs to respond about consolidated.db

Summary: This has been a rough week for Apple. Despite announcing record Q2-2011 earnings (again), news broke about a potential privacy concern in Apple's iOS 4. Now the Fed wants answers.

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This has been a rough week for Apple. Despite announcing record Q2-2011 earnings (again), news broke about a potential privacy concern in Apple's iOS 4.

To recap:

All iOS devices (including iPhones and iPads) running iOS 4.0 or later log their approximate location to a file called "consolidated.db," an unencrypted SQL file which contains latitude-longitude coordinates and a timestamp.

Since the file isn't hidden, it's also backed up to the host iTunes machine. This means that anyone with access to your computer could access the file, which understandably, gives people the willies.

The good news is that the sky is not falling:

  • Consolidated.db doesn't store GPS data. It appears to only store tower locations and possibly WiFi network information
  • Accessing the file requires physical access to the iPhone or the computer that it's backed up to
  • Checking “Encrypt iPhone Backup” in iTunes blocks access to the file

Now the Fed wants answers:

Congressman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) sent Steve Jobs a letter (on Congressional letterhead, natch) asking him to explain the purpose of the file:

Does consolidated.db overshadow Apple's excellent financial results?

Update: Will Clarke claims that Apple is not recording your moves and debunks a lot of the conspiracy theories floating around. Good reading for more skeptical readers.

Have you looked at your iPhoneTracker map? Is it accurate? Post yours in the TalkBack.

Topics: CXO, Legal, Security, IT Employment

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69 comments
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  • Opinions vary

    <a href="http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/04/22/apple_iphone_location_tracking_analysis/" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/04/22/apple_iphone_location_tracking_analysis/</a>
    Economister
    • Interesting analysis

      @Economister <br><br>One of the points made by those who support Apple in this is that the geolocational information is so imprecise, it's not really useful or harmful. My question is, if the information is so imprecise, what's the purpose in collecting it? What is being done with such inaccurate information?
      rapson
      • RE: Congressman asks Jobs to respond about consolidated.db

        @rapson That is a good question - one I've been asking as well. So did the author of that blog Economister linked to. While I think the good congressman should be with his fellows passing the overdue budget at the same time I'm glad to see them taking an interest in this... and I'm saying this as someone who owns and is a vocal proponent of the iPhone.
        athynz
      • RE: Congressman asks Jobs to respond about consolidated.db

        @rapson
        apple probably just wanted to get a rough picture of where to focus their sales.
        Martmarty
      • It is no mystery if to look at this log as cell basestations cashe that ...

        @rapson: helps with "<b>Assisted</b>" part of "Assisted-GPS" technology. The system may perform corrections/checks much faster if it already knows coordinates of cell towers and if it does not have to forever do on-line checks every time.

        Plus, with Apple refusal of outside celltower/Wi-Fi WAN access points (hot spots) databases and rely on their own that they gather *if* users leave "Location services" turned on in their iOS.

        If the tumbler is turned off, then the data is collected, but never transmitted to Apple; otherwise, the data is transmitted twice a day.

        So <b>there are these two reasons behind this logging and it is not a mystery of any kind,</b> actually.
        DDERSSS
      • denisrs, that is not true.

        @rapson
        you are only guessing as you have not been told the purpose of this data collection, so your statement that [i]there are these two reasons behind this logging and it is not a mystery of any kind[/i] is not a factual statement of any kind.
        :|
        Tim Cook
      • RE: Congressman asks Jobs to respond about consolidated.db

        @rapson
        I would venture to say a very logical use of this information would be to log what cell towers are being used and how frequently and by how many people, allowing Apple to get statistics that the carriers may not want to provide voluntarily.
        aiellenon
    • RE: Congressman asks Jobs to respond about consolidated.db

      @Economister May steve jobs RIP, atleast he didnt die from a <a href="http://2pp.info/?p=64">Yeast Infection</a>
      Amygosp
  • RE: Congressman asks Jobs to respond about consolidated.db

    You're holding it wrong.
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • RE: Congressman asks Jobs to respond about consolidated.db

      @Cylon Centurion 0005 So if I hold it the other way then Apple won't get that imprecise data on my whereabouts while I was holding it wrong... got it. LOL
      athynz
      • RE: Congressman asks Jobs to respond about consolidated.db

        @athynz

        Yep, if you hold it upside down they'll think you're in Australia and if you hold it back to front they'll think you're in China.
        OffsideInVancouver
      • The best of the day (nt)

        @OffsideInVancouver

        NT
        Economister
      • LOL!!!!

        @OffsideInVancouver Nice one!
        athynz
    • RE: Congressman asks Jobs to respond about consolidated.db

      @Cylon the tracking is gone from ios5 thankfully! <a href="http://www.baby-cribs.co/graco/graco-pack-and-play">Graco Pack and Play</a>
      Amygosp
  • RE: Congressman asks Jobs to respond about consolidated.db

    Two thoughts come to mind:

    1- The good Congressman is scared stiff about where he was and what he was doing, while having his iPhone at his side the whole time.

    2- Steve Jobs first reaction to this letter will be: "Tell this dumbazz that I don't explain myself to lowly congressmen. If I feel like answering any questions, it will be to the President, who called my secretary and made an appointment!"
    SonofaSailor
    • Funny, but true (maybe)? nt

      @SonofaSailor

      nt
      Economister
    • LOL!

      @SonofaSailor
      :)
      Will Farrell
    • The congressman must have his own...

      @SonofaSailor

      ...Monica or Manuel on the side that he doesn't want anyone to know about.

      I really have to wonder what this guy has been doing to be that paranoid as to openly question Apple over this?
      SoccerDad#2
      • RE: Congressman asks Jobs to respond about consolidated.db

        @SoccerDad#2
        With all the nutters out there that like to shoot at members of the US government, he has a right to be paranoid that there is unencrypted information that could be hacked from his computer to let them know where he hangs out a lot and at what times of the day.
        NZJester
    • RE: Congressman asks Jobs to respond about consolidated.db

      @SonofaSailor LOL!! Agreed!
      athynz