iPhone Tracks (and Stores) Your Every Move
Ever since the arrival of GPS enabled mobile devices people have come up with all sorts of Big Brother-esque conspiracy theories. Security researchers have now bolstered these theories with the discovery of a file within iOS4 that keeps timestamped records of the phone's location.
While looking for a source of mobile data on the iPhone, data scientists Pete Warden and Alasdair Allan discovered the file. At first they weren't sure how much data was in the file, but after extracting and visualizing it, " it became clear that there was a scary amount of detail on our movements," according to Warden. They found that not only does the file contain the latitude and longitude along with a timestamp, but that the file is copied from the phone to the owner's computer every time they are synched.
According to Warden, "Apple has made it possible for almost anybody – a jealous spouse, a private detective – with access to your phone or computer to get detailed information about where you've been." Simon Davies, director of Privacy International, (see iPhone tracking discussion after break)... is concerned with the discovery as well: "Location is one of the most sensitive elements in anyone's life – just think where people go in the evening. The existence of that data creates a real threat to privacy. The absence of notice to users or any control option can only stem from an ignorance about privacy at the design stage." The fact that the file is transferred to the computer is evidence enough that the data gathering is intentional. The reasons remain unclear though, and Apple declined to comment on the file's purpose or whether or not it can be disabled.
Warden and Allan speculate that the information might be intended for use with new features that Apple may have planned. Senior technology consultant at the security company Sophos, George Clulely agrees, suggesting that Apple might be planning location based mobile advertising and adding that he "tends to subscribe to cockup rather than conspiracy on things like this – [and doesn't] think Apple is really trying to monitor where users are." In fact, there is no evidence that the data is being transmitted to Apple.
It should be noted, however, that Apple can legitimately claim permission to gather such data, as stated near the end of the 15,200 word terms and conditions for iTunes: "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."