Apple’s iPhone tracks everywhere you go; stores the info in secret file on the device

“Security researchers have discovered that Apple’s iPhone keeps track of where you go – and saves every detail of it to a secret file on the device which is then copied to the owner’s computer when the two are synchronised,” Charles Arthur reports for The Guardian. “The file contains the latitude and longitude of the phone’s recorded coordinates along with a timestamp, meaning that anyone who stole the phone or the computer could discover details about the owner’s movements using a simple program.”

“For some phones, there could be almost a year’s worth of data stored, as the recording of data seems to have started with Apple’s iOS 4 update to the phone’s operating system, released in June 2010,” Arthur reports. “‘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,’ said Pete Warden, one of the researchers.”

“Only the iPhone records the user’s location in this way, say Warden and Alasdair Allan, the data scientists who discovered the file and are presenting their findings at the Where 2.0 conference in San Francisco on Wednesday,” Arthur reports. “‘Alasdair has looked for similar tracking code in [Google’s] Android phones and couldn’t find any,’ said Warden. ‘We haven’t come across any instances of other phone manufacturers doing this.'”

“Warden and Allan point out that the file is moved onto new devices when an old one is replaced: ‘Apple might have new features in mind that require a history of your location, but that’s our specualtion. The fact that [the file] is transferred across [to a new iPhone or iPad] when you migrate is evidence that the data-gathering isn’t accidental.’ But they said it does not seem to be transmitted to Apple itself,” Arthur reports. “Warden and Allan have set up a web page which answers questions about the file, and created a simple downloadable application to let Apple users check for themselves what location data the phone is retaining. The Guardian has confirmed that 3G-enabled devices including the iPad also retain the data and copy it to the owner’s computer.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: All GPS-enabled smartphones track your every move (you can turn off GPS on your iOS devices in Settings); what’s different here is that the file isn’t just living in your carrier’s database, but also in your iOs device. Apple should explain why they are collecting this information and storing it on iOS devices. Furthermore, Apple should first ask users if such tracking should allowed or not, regardless of whether GPS is enabled.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews readers too numerous to mention individually for the heads up.]

92 Comments

  1. You, MDN is a total idiot on this issues. The file is your own iphone, sync with your own computer. Apple doesn’t have it, AT&T and Verizon don’t have it neither. Only when you lost your iphone or your iTunes computer, then someone else may get this file. At that time, you have much bigger problems to worry about, your call logs, your contacts, your email, your password. A bunch of brainless whining trashy Americans, so easy to be swayed by media.

    1. Is Apple storing this information elsewhere?
      There’s no evidence that it’s being transmitted beyond your device and any machines you sync it with.

      Quote from original researchers’ website.

      1. I agree, somewhat, but for US citizens that are now apparently having their smartphones scanned via software if they are stopped by the police, the issue is suddenly a lot more serious.

          1. I’d avoid calling people out on their language usage. Not everyone here has English as their first language; and despite mutilating it, they likely speak it better than you do their native tongue.

            Assuming everyone should speak proper English makes you sound like the negative American stereotypes the rest of the world has of us.

    2. “A bunch of brainless whining trashy Americans, so easy to be swayed by media.”

      Sheep that is… Lazy fat brainless dumbed down sheep. How do you think the tea party gets over?

        1. It takes a raging ignorant fool to accuse Tea Party people as being dumbed down sheep. We weren’t the ones mindlessly chanting “Hope and Change” in ’08 and elevating retards like Obama to god-like status. Let me be clear: Obama supporters are the dumbest of the dumb. If you count yourself as one then I recommend turning off Access Hollywood and reading a book.

        2. Well, I’m convinced. Both sides of the Tea Party debate have made excellent, intelligent name-calling….err…I mean…points. I’m so glad you used this Mac forum to excrete…I mean…express yourselves. Now, if you could just clarify a few more nagging Mac-related issues:

          Is the Big Bang Theory true?
          Did man evolve from apes?
          Is there a heaven?
          Are there extraterrestrials? Have aliens from outer space landed on earth?

          Thank you so much for applying you massive intelligence to these pressing issues.

          1. Oh my, don’t we take ourselves seriously? We’re all very impressed at your attempt at a witty retort. I’ll give it a C+ for effort. But you see, veiled insults are still insults, and insulting someone because they insulted someone else is, wait for it…. Insulting!!

            Yes, see what I did there?!? (har-hyuck!)

            Look man, all I did was state a documented fact and a solid conclusion based on the nature of said fact. Its not name-calling, if it’s true.

            1. What’s that? Did someone say something? Hmmm…

              Must have been the wind…or hot air.

              Someone once mentioned “facts”:

              The earth is round
              Neil Armstrong – First man on the moon

              What do they all have in common?

              Not relevant on a Mac Forum!!

      1. I’m getting rather sick of ignorants casting these wide dispersions on the people of an entire country based on the actions of a few. The Tea Party gets over by pandering to the needs of special interests and corporate fat cats who wish to stay wealthy regardless of the impact on the rest of us, just exactly like every other political party.

        Get over yourself… Or get some oxygen, as the air is clearly quite thin on your high-horse, you self-righteous prat.

        1. Uhh..sorry to burst your bubble since you seem to be on a roll but the ‘Tea Party’ isn’t a ‘political party’. It’s a movement made-up of Dems, Reps, Indp’s–the whole spectrum.

          We now return to your regularly scheduled ignorant ramblings..

        2. Hate to break the news to you, but only a country full of certified morons would put up with the epidemic of lying, cheating and stealing that’s going on in plain sight. Environmental regulations? Who needs them! Medical benefits for the poor and elderly? Bonuses for billionaires are more important! You may be sick of hearing about things you would obviously prefer to ignore; but if you do that, you’re just another moron who’s busy pretending that everything is alright when the whole house is coming down around you. Best of luck, mate!

          1. Based on where your reply sits in this thread, it would seem this is directed a me, yet I have neither said nor implied that I hold they beliefs you accuse me of.

            Seems like you need to work on your reading comprehension skills.

            If this was not directed at me, and you made the error of replying to the wrong person, then I apologize.
            If this is not directed at me, and you simply ‘

      2. Do yourselves a favor…..watch/listen to Olbermann, Maddow, Limbaugh, Beck, etc. with the proper attitude: They are pundits and propagandists. Any of their so called “superior ideas” do not have to withstand the test of running an actual country and being responsible for the results of such ideas. That said keep in mind:

        Businesses do need to be regulated for public safety reasons.

        Tea Party or not, the U.S. has to control it’s expenditures or else.

        Socialism and Communism are not romantic ideals that the U.S. should be striving for. In fact, ask anyone who has had to care for a family under such oppressive conditions. Communism and Socialism suck!

        Zack del la Rocha and Tommy Morello make some great music but Che Guevara was an a$$h0le.

        And finally Ray’s rule for when to leave a country: If the leader of your country is the richest person in the country and the only reason they are rich is because they are the leader…it is time to go. Think Dear Leader, Arafat, Castro, Chavez. etc.

        just my $0.02

      1. It’s true, but you also have the ability to remote-wipe your iOS device in the event it is stolen.

        I suppose there could be bigger worries if someone steals your computer, but then there is usually far more sensitive and damaging information on mist people’s computer than a locations history.

        1. Is this file deleted upon a remote swipe? Nothing was said about it. But, it would appear that the issue is: why would anyone want to track your geo-locations without your knowledge. I have not seen anything from Apple mentioning that such tracking exists. Does it track where phone calls are made? When any data is used from a cell tower? What about locations where WiFi is used? If this is a mistake…it is a big one. If one is trying to play it down because of AAPL stock ownership…not a good reason to throw away everyone’s privacy.

    3. HOw do you know how, where and why it is being stored. In fact, I have checked you out and YOU are teh brainless one. Had yours removed several years ago.

      I love Apple. But, storing this sort of information is perplexing and should be discontinued. I have nothing to hide by today’s standards. But, who knows what will be standard search in the future (AKA Patriot Act). If it can be stored, it can be obtained.

    4. Lies, lies, lies, I bet Microsoft or Google is behind this.
      If you look closer, this is NOT GPS tracking data.
      This looks more like coverage bandwidth or throughput data that may be used to improve networks.
      It does not show places I have been or I visit often, my house has just a small dot and there are places on the map I have never visited. Dots are arranged in squares, not routes.
      STOP spreading those nonsense stories.

      1. From the application’s FAQ: “To make it less useful for snoops, the spatial and temporal accuracy of the data has been artificially reduced. You can only animate week-by-week even though the data is timed to the second, and if you zoom in you’ll see the points are constrained to a grid, so your exact location is not revealed. The underlying database has no such constraints, unfortunately.”

        And those worried about the application possibly being a trojan and transmitting this very file somewhere, it’s open source so you can examine the code and compile it yourself.

        STOP sticking your head in the sand.

    1. Lies, lies, I bet M$ or Google is behind this.
      If you look closer, this is NOT GPS tracking data.
      This looks more like coverage bandwidth or throughput data that may be used to improve networks.
      It does not show places I have been or I visit often, my house has just a small dot and there are places on the map I have never visited. Dots are arranged in squares, not routes.

  2. if you don’t like it don’t use it. I prefer going back to the days of just landlines. need to get a hold of me? leave a message at my home machine and i’ll get back to you when i can. landlines are so cheap now its not funny. the hell with carrying a phone around.

  3. Very cool app. It was interesting to see all the location history. Don’t really feel this is a big issue, but will be encrypting backups from now on just in case.

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