iPhone tracks your every move - How worried are you?

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?

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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? [poll id="619"] 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.

Oxford to Cambridge and then London from Alasdair Allan on Vimeo.

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.

Washington DC to New York from Alasdair Allan on Vimeo.

Topics: Smartphones, Hardware, iPhone, Mobility

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69 comments
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  • It's for the best

    All Apple wants to do is better enrich our lives by tracking us and letting us know there are better places to go then the ones we've chosen!
    Will Farrell
    • RE: iPhone tracks your every move - How worried are you?

      @Will Farrell No hogging the koolaid!
      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
      • LOL!

        @Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
        :)
        Will Farrell
      • All cell carriers store your GPS-time data for at least half year

        @Adrian Kingsley-Hughes:<br><br><a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/26/business/media/26privacy.html?_r=2" target="_blank" rel="nofollow"><a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/26/business/media/26privacy.html?_r=2" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/26/business/media/26privacy.html?_r=2</a></a><br><br>The difference with Apple is that <b>Apple does not have this data</b> -- no traces of any forwarding is found in iOS, according to the same people who found this log file.<br><br>But it is not that popular to worry about boring carriers owning your-everything when there is chance to worry about Apple, which does not even have that data. ;))
        DDERSSS
      • RE: iPhone tracks your every move - How worried are you?

        @denisrs ... I agree ...
        Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
      • ROFL you cant share it if you dont have it.

        So why does Apple TOS state:

        ".. For example, we may share geographic location with application providers.."

        This clearly implies they DO have it. No matter what Apple fans want to believe.

        Then again, everyone knows how blinded and fool hearted Apple fans are.
        Uralbas
      • They share it only when it is explicitley confirmed by user

        This cell tower data is not transmitted.

        No matter what Google/freetard fans want to believe.

        Then again, everyone knows how blinded and fool hearted Google/freetards fans are.
        DDERSSS
      • RE: iPhone tracks your every move - How worried are you?

        @Uralbas They state they will share location with application providers, not location history. At no point does it say they will share it from their servers. How do you think applications that use your location work without access no matter what device you are talking about? Do you think they magically know where you are or that the OS (iOS in this case) is providing them with access to the current location?
        non-biased
    • RE: iPhone tracks your every move - How worried are you?

      @Will Farrell

      Did James347 hack your account? Oh wait that would actually take some computer knowledge. You must be being sarcastic.
      bobiroc
      • No sarcasm icon

        @bobiroc
        :(
        Will Farrell
    • RE: iPhone tracks your every move - How worried are you?

      @Will Farrell Apple could very easily map every ios device on a map. It's trivial. Google can too. They don't need a log file to do it.
      LarsDennert
  • RE: iPhone tracks your every move - How worried are you?

    All your gps data belongs to us!!
    jatbains
    • RE: iPhone tracks your every move - How worried are you?

      @jatbains
      I believe the appropriate semantic construction would be, "All your data are belong to us!!"

      ...er, that is, if Apple were actually collecting the data. If you had read the article (and denisrs's post), you would know that it has [b]not[/b] been established that Apple is doing that. In fact, that's one of the principal points of Adrian's article: It's not clear [i]what[/i] Apple is doing with the data.
      slingzenarrowzuvowtrayjissforchin
    • RE: iPhone tracks your every move - How worried are you?

      @jatbains <br><br>If you actually read the story, you'd know that it isn't GPS data.
      msalzberg
  • RE: iPhone tracks your every move - How worried are you?

    I agree we should have been notified by this, but I think they use this data to enhance the exact location of iPhone to suport "Find my iPhone" I am not fanboi or have any insight into the business case for this, but just a thought.
    Ram U
    • RE: iPhone tracks your every move - How worried are you?

      @Rama.NET I thought that, but Find My iPhone requires Location Services to be turned on, this does not ...
      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
      • RE: iPhone tracks your every move - How worried are you?

        @Adrian Kingsley-Hughes This just invalidates the post I just made below... I assumed that this was tied into the Find My iPhone service. Not cool Apple, now I want to know why they are collecting this data and what their plans are for it and more importantly how does one opt out of it.
        athynz
      • RE: iPhone tracks your every move - How worried are you?

        @Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

        Even if, why do they need a year's worth of data to find your phone?
        WebSiteManager
      • RE: iPhone tracks your every move - How worried are you?

        @Adrian Kingsley-Hughes But it's on the damn phone, not sitting on Steve Jobs computer (I'm assuming it's a Mac). If I become separated from my phone then it isn't tracking me anymore is it? (Tracking itself, but that's not the same thing). I think anyone who knows me knows the places I visit - sure this is more detail, but if someone accesses it then it is going to be historic anyway.

        Why does it do this? I don't know. Am I concerned, not overly. Curious, yeah.

        But let's not get too carried away - it could be a simple error. Android in it's first versions sent all keystrokes to a shell (yeah - how do you create a bug like that?!) The iPhone clock - well let's not talk about the iPhone clock (that comedy of weird buggyness).

        With Android any app can do this (until someone notices) in real time. I'd be more worried about that.
        jeremychappell
      • RE: iPhone tracks your every move - How worried are you?

        @Athynz How does Android look now? I can shut this off in my phone! :-D
        slickjim