Apple’s iOS location tracking file caused by a bit of unfinished code?

Why Apple is recording and storing location information on iOS devices?

John Gruber writes, “I don’t have a definitive answer, but my little-birdie-informed understanding is that consolidated.db acts as a cache for location data, and that historical data should be getting culled but isn’t, either due to a bug or, more likely, an oversight. I.e. someone wrote the code to cache location data but never wrote code to cull non-recent entries from the cache, so that a database that’s meant to serve as a cache of your recent location data is instead a persistent log of your location history. I’d wager this gets fixed in the next iOS update.”

Read more in the full article here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Fred Mertz” for the heads up.]

Related articles:
U.S. Senator Al Franken demands answers from Apple’s Steve Jobs over iPhone tracking – April 21, 2011
Expert: iPhone tracking story is nothing new and Apple is not collecting the data – April 21, 2011
‘untrackerd’ jailbreak utility blocks iOS from storing recorded iPhone location data – April 21, 2011
Apple’s iPhone tracks everywhere you go; stores the info in secret file on the device – April 20, 2011

18 Comments

    1. If the laziness is about implementing encryption of this file, then yes.

      Otherwise, as I have read, the whole thing might be cache for “location”/GPS-assistance service for speedier positioning without need to make online checks in areas where user already was and thus coordinates of base station etc. are already known.

  1. This makes a lot of sense. Mine was over 20MB, saved since the day the iPhone 4 was released. I could easily see someone getting up to a GB, which would be a problem in of itself. Certainly it’s better to have the iPhone cache the last location. If you look at the plist files, you’ll see that several apps are writing to the database, and if you open the SQL database up, you’ll also see what they’re writing.

    However, it does make sense to purge the data base, unless Apple turns this bug into a feature. I really hope they do. Just put an opt-in preference in there to allow us to turn off location cache purging.

  2. I hope they put a switch on it, instead of taking it out completely. I kinda like it. It’s not like it’s shared, unless somebody steals your device in which case you have bigger problems. They could even offer options: keep zero, minimum required by Find My iThing (a day or two?), 15 days, 30, 90, 1 year, forever…

  3. No bigger fanboy than me, but Apple needs to say something now. What is keeping them mum? They should get emails out to every iOS owner detailing what it is all about and who it helps or hurts. They must be going nuts in Cupertino trying to PR this, don’t you think?

    1. Apple does investigates things methodically and thoroughly, it would take more than a knee jerk reaction to answer and address the issue and any solutions if warranted.

      Take a chill pill.

    2. Apple investigates matters and complaints methodically and thoroughly, it takes more than a knee jerk reaction, to answer and address the issue and any solutions if warranted.

      Take a chill pill.

      1. Not that the meaning of ‘cull’ is very relevant, but it could also mean picking the good stuff.

        To say that the initial Congressional hysteria is a tempest in a teapot exaggerates the importance of what we know so far about this ‘private’ data in iPhones. Big deal, not. If someone steals my iPhone and/or computer on which it is backed up, will that tell the intruder my home address, my child’s school or which doctor I go to? The short answer is, “No”. But all those goodies are probably to be found in my email, notes, and other data on the iPhone, very directly.

        The only potentially interesting question would be whether or not Apple has access to the cell tower data, and what use might be made of that information. I doubt that Apple does have access. But of course others do ‘cull’ that information in other ways, including AT&T or Verizon. What about other cell phones and apps on them? I suspect there might be far more interesting stories to investigate than this one.

        Is there any excitement about vehicles that store much more definitive information about their peregrinations than the iPhone’s cell tower data?

  4. WHAT?

    Either Gruber is an idiot or a liar or both… This is much more than a simple bug… Apple is not that lame…

    Gruber must have been asleep when he wrote this…..

  5. well now they say Google does do the same, and more…

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703983704576277101723453610.html?mod=WSJ_hp_MIDDLETopStories

    “In the case of Google, according to new research by security analyst Samy Kamkar, an HTC Android phone collected its location every few seconds and transmitted the data to Google at least several times an hour. It also transmitted the name, location and signal strength of any nearby Wi-Fi networks, as well as a unique phone identifier.”

  6. Tracking-gate…Until proven otherwise, I choose to give Apple the benefit of the doubt. Apple has been one of the strongest champions of user privacy and rights in the consumer electronics industry, and this is far more likely to be test code, development code, or a simple coding error than anything malicious. Think about it – if they had ulterior motives then they would have encrypted the file and periodically transmitted and flushed the contents (perhaps during a software upgrade?) to hide it. They apparently did neither.

    1. someone pointed out in one of the other articles.
      all of this… is from the Maps app. IE google’s map app…
      And the new story is that Google does worse than the apple version of the Tracking-gate story.

      kinda makes one wonder.

      Personally i’m not all that worried about it. just find it funny that the Maps app that caused all this “scare” is Google maps..

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