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

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.

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.

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Apple launched a multipronged response---a Q&A and interviews with Wall Street Journal sites---to fend off the flap over location-tracking. But questions remain.

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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)