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. Down to 320 ( lowest this years) just 2 days ago, with nothing but superlative products and performance.

      If the SEC doesn’t get to the bottom of this, they will single handedly be responsible for the erosion of faith and trust in the stock market.

      There’s a class action if there ever was one.

        1. Few, but just as important there are still companies that draw and count on real investors, that need that market regulation and oversight. Without investment and protection from slime we go even deeper into shit.

  1. Don’t be stupid. This isn’t a short holder. Pete Warden is the guy who wrote the effects for Apple’s Motion app. He’s holding a lot of Apple stock.

    KenC, to add geolocation metadata to a photo, the iPhone doesn’t need a complete history of your locations over the past year, just the current location. There’s no legitimate use for compiling this data.

    Probably just some engineer at Apple trying to track his ex-girlfriend, with all of the rest of us as collateral damage.

  2. not so good… zoom in and it is a grid of towers… not really that accurate, And the size of the dots are data download amounts, it is not the same data as when you take a picture so chill.

    Just interesting that’s all

  3. If this was an App…I would probably pay 99¢ for it!!
    I travel internationally a lot for work..a lot!! So, I downloaded and checked it out. It’s oddly incomplete but pretty cool. As long as it’s only on my phone and computer I don’t have a problem with it. There’s certainly a whole lot of info on my phone that’s more sensitive than whether or not I was in Milan in December! But….like I said..oddly incomplete…Why didn’t it pick up the fact that I spent a few days in Belgium (including one unhappy night spent at Brussels airport, snowed in)? Or my time at Heathrow? It picked up every other part of that trip including the train ride from Milan to Zurich. It also totally missed my family trip to New Zealand last spring! Why some countries and not others??

    So…if it was a 99¢ App and I had bought it…I might only give it 3 stars!

    1. If you read their website, you’ll find that they have deliberately made their software obfuscate slightly where you’ve been, for privacy concerns etc – so that their own tool didn’t ‘exacerbate’ the privacy issue already there… apparently the underlying data is all there. It’s certainly picked up on my trips to Australia, Singapore, Morocco…

      1. Thanks. I did take a look at their site and I can see their obfuscation on the train trip to Zurich and other points etc…but there are no signs whatsoever of my time in Belgium during the same trip. Not a big deal…just odd that some parts of the same trip are missing.

  4. I’m going to guess it is probably left over from debugging purposes. Someone forgot to remove a line of code.

    The fact that it’s backed up and copied to new devices doesn’t really mean anything as I’m sure the backup/restore doesn’t pick specific files, only specific folders including all files within.

  5. i ran the app and looked at where it says i have been and it was accurate to the point where i saw a trail of dots going down to the beach and back home again, but the “tracking” isnt even close to accurate enough to be used in stalking or farming my daily actions.

    and the longer you have owned your phone the more useless data points it accumulates

    if anything, id say apple could use the data to get an idea of the general vicinity my phone travels. maybe to troubleshoot dead zones, or to show apple where they need to focus more bandwidth

    you could not use this info for much more than that

    1. I bet Microsoft or Google is behind this story.
      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. Then there are dots miles from where I was.
      Dots are arranged in squares, not routes.

  6. Apple has never let me down in any of the products ( hardward/software) I have purchased since 2004. I actually TRUST Apple. If that file was being looked at by someone at Apple, by all means go for it. If i was committing illegal activities or doing wrong, maybe I would be so secretive as to never wanting anyone to know anywhere I have been, but I have nothing to hide, so enjoy. I see very promising and great potential for such tracking features.
    See why 1984 wont be like 1984…

  7. So… how many of you people who are afraid to be tracked just downloaded an application from someone you likely haven’t heard from before today? As “practical” threats go, which one do you think is actually greater?

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