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. A file that’s unencrypted, and easily found on the phone is far from “secret”.

    And everyone should know the phone carriers have this information, and always have. I don’t understand the fuss.

  2. This is way overrated. It’s not even GPS data, it is some sort of statistical data, most likely for enhancing of the coverage. People are so sensitive about tracking them, why? Are you up to no good?

  3. It doesn’t seem very accurate. Example: sometime in July last year it appears to show that I was in Las Vegas. Haven’t been there in years. And it never showed me at home, not once…

  4. The inaccuracy of the data demonstrates the danger of having the data unencrypted in the first place. Malthus says he hasn’t been in Vegas for years, but he might have a hard time convincing his wife or the prosecutor that, if he were wrongly accused of going to Vegas with his receptionist.

    I can’t think of a legitimate purpose for keeping this data around for years and meticulously backing it up, without any protection at all. If it’s just test data, why not flip the “obfuscate this file” switch that hides your emails and SMS history?

  5. Does the government (think DOD) or other corporations want that information about its employees for sale to the highest bidder? If some country’s armed force where to adopt iPads for their soldiers to carry…can that information be used to target soldiers?

    just my $0.02

  6. By secrectly collecting our personal data without out express consent violates our basic rights to privacy. Whether or not the data leaves our laptops or iphone, apple have knowingly and maliciously created a program that compromise our privacy.

  7. Apple also download any IPHONE user Photos and personal information stored on any apple device when you sync your apple device to your computer. Any information that is downloaded to the user computer is also transmitted and stored on Apple server without the user knowledge or consent, That includes any personal information and photos. That is an invation of the user privacy. private photos should not be downlaoded by Apple to their servers.

Reader Feedback

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.