iOS 7 records, displays user location data: Reactions from the trenches

iOS 7 records, displays user location data: Reactions from the trenches

Summary: We all presume our phones log where we go and when. But when you see it in front of you on your iPhone, that's when it gets a little creepy.

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TOPICS: Apple, iOS, Security
19

Here's one for you.

Apple's latest mobile operating system, iOS 7, running on an iPhone 4S, logs and records where you've been, when you were there, and makes it available to view on your device, albeit buried deep in the settings. 

Screen Shot 2013-08-07 at 11.59.02
(Image: ZDNet)

First discovered on Y Combinator's Hacker News, iOS 7 developers and Apple users alike discussed this "feature" with healthy discussion but mixed reactions.

Some are naturally concerned in the wake of the U.S. National Security Agency's PRISM program and other state surveillance systems, while some privacy-minded folk agree that, despite the accusations of "copying" from rival phone software makers — such as Google Now, a level of transparency is the best policy. 

User julianpye:

If you want to build transparent context-aware services, your system will need to create this information.

In agreement, jbrooksuk:

What's wrong with this? Apple are openly providing this information for you to view — rather than others who don't even warn the user. Plus, it's improving their services which you more than likely need. Why complain? You can opt out.

New user northwest chimed in:

Society has accepted to be tracked all the time/everywhere with the introduction of mobile phones. If we don't like this, we should start to talk more proactively to people about the dangers our technology brings.

User donquichotte started a line of thinking about the nature of opt-in versus opt-out:

But how much of the collected data do they show you? [In my opinion] services like this should be opt-in, rather than opt-out.

Germany, where much of the privacy scandal has been focused due to its strong data protection laws. A few lines of inquiry quickly becomes political. "Germans love their privacy-by-default and opt-in," said one user.

User eduard added:

Given current affairs, it's bad that this system doesn't inform the user about a new feature being activated on default. It is hidden in the background.

The reason to bring up "what the community says" is that it's interesting to see how developers in particular, who understand the underlying software roots better than most others, feel in the wake of the NSA surveillance scandal breaking.

There are some takeaway lessons here.

For Apple, it's worth being up front about it. As the comments noted, Google also tracks its users in a similar way, both on mobile devices and on the desktop. We as users opt into it, often without knowing. Terms of service are long, boring, and only very few actually read them. But when the word gets out, it's better to be proactively transparent and open rather than allow the freak-out machine to do its thing until fears are calmed.

Some are reminded by "Locationgate," which was not so long ago. Apple, along with Google and Microsoft, were implicated in a privacy row, in which mobile devices and smartphones would quietly collect location data and stored in an unencrypted file on the device. 

The scandal led to lawmakers getting involved, patches issued, and a general shake-up of the third-party app industry in a bid to prevent this tracking from happening.

On the flip side, we assume many things in this world, and those assumptions come from somewhere. As the user, it's worth keeping in mind that from a personal security perspective, we can't avoid cell companies and governments accessing our tracking data. But if our phones are stolen, the last thing we might want is a map of "home" and "work" being readily available to the thief. 

(via Hacker News)

Topics: Apple, iOS, Security

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19 comments
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      • You are assuming such back doors can't be removed.

        Open source, remember? The vendors can do what they like - remove things, add things...

        Only if you are allowed to replace the installation are you capable of deleting things yourself.
        jessepollard
        • The back doors can't be removed without

          the responsible vendors getting fined/put in jail. You see, those are two things the government can do to you when you cross it that a business cannot.
          baggins_z
          • censorship here!

            here is a censorship!!
            so again:

            1) Windows has back doors by NSA http://goo.gl/EcQ9BE
            2) so probably Apple = also closed and limited ecosystem
            3) Android (at least Nexus) cant because of "open source"
            anywherehome
  • As for gooble maps...

    Use of ANY map service tells them where you are.

    It isn't just google. EVERYONE that provides a map service that you use knows where you are.
    jessepollard
    • Consent

      Nope - Google Maps et al on Android ask you to grant permission to access location data, is refused by default.
      psdie8
  • Of course Android has back doors.

    This is government we're talking about. It gets what it wants. One of these days, people are finally going to realize that governments have vastly more power than businesses.
    baggins_z
    • Of course ios has back doors

      This is government we're talking about. It gets what it wants. One of these days, people are finally going to realize that governments have vastly more power than businesses.
      toddbottom3
      • Agreed. iOS has backdoors for precisely

        the same reason. So does MS and Google. What was your point again?
        baggins_z
        • My point is this

          apple is in cahoots with the NSA to give the government access to all your data.

          Since this is a story about ios, any discussion of other OSs is off topic.

          It is apple that has opened back doors in ios and that's all that needs to be said about that.
          toddbottom3
          • Interesting to note

            In that chart Snowden disclosed, Microsoft was first to implement the backdoor, Apple last. Apparently Steve Jobs didn't let this happen, while alive --- no wonder his dossier was "bad".

            One could argue, and nobody will be surprised that Microsoft possibly initiated this program and actively assisted in trapping others, in.
            danbi
          • I actually heard that apple started PRISM

            One could argue, and nobody will be surprised that apple possibly initiated this program and actively assisted in trapping others, in. As a reward for this, all documentation of PRISM was altered to make it look like apple was the last to install back doors in all of their products so that apple users world wide would have all of their personal information sent to the NSA.

            As a second reward, the government has a standing deal with apple that the POTUS will veto any and all attempts to ban the import of apple products.

            One could argue this, right danbi?
            toddbottom3
          • Not android.

            Google's servers might have had to allow NSA access.. but two things say it's probably not backdoors into Android itself.
            1. Thousands of nerds creating AOSP and Cyanogen and the thousand rom makers that poor over the code would have found it very quickly.
            2. Android apps are written in Java, java is reasonably easy to decompile. So again the nerds would have found it.

            If Google did keep server side logs of your location, then the NSA likely has access. But if it's not kept server side then it doesn't exist on Android because it would be way to easy to find and Google would know that and wouldn't want the bad publicity of someone finding it.
            frankieh
    • Oh, and one more thing

      Nice to see that you admit Android is the standard by which all things must be measured.

      Right?
      toddbottom3
      • Since I was actually commenting on the naivete of people who

        think open source is immune to government mandate, not quite sure where you got that conclusion. Oh. Wait. YOU were the one who brought up the Apple comparison. Apparently, you felt that Android, like everything else in your world, must be compared to Apple.
        baggins_z
        • I brought up the apple comparison?

          Where is there a comparison in this?
          "Of course ios has back doors
          This is government we're talking about. It gets what it wants. One of these days, people are finally going to realize that governments have vastly more power than businesses."

          No comparison, I'm merely talking about ios, you know, the only thing that this blog post is about.

          It is YOU who brought up Android because, you know, Android is the standard by which all things must be measure, right baggins?
          toddbottom3
        • just for the record

          Android is not exactly Open Source.

          Or, more precisely, the Android that goes in the mobile phones is not exactly the Android that is published as Open Source. People often speculate with Open Source and Android and it seems those who install the (closed source) backdoors are happy with this confusion and encourage it.
          danbi
  • The various phones are probably collecting sufficient data

    to do this now. But it is frightening to actually see it presented to me like that.
    Mac_PC_FenceSitter
  • Oh Toddy!

    Of course WP8 has back doors. Like the article states, at least Apple has the decency to alert the user of this, unlike the deceptive techniques of others.
    Gr8Music
    • This is about ios, nothing else

      apple gives the government access to your location at all times.

      That is on topic.

      Anything you have to say about other OSs is off topic.
      toddbottom3