Apple iPhone collects location info even when location services are turned off by user

“Apple Inc.’s iPhone is collecting and storing location information even when location services are turned off, according to a test conducted by The Wall Street Journal,” Jennifer Valentino-Devries reports for The Wall Street Journal. “The location data appear to be collected using cellphone towers and Wi-Fi access points near a user’s phone and don’t appear to be transmitted back to Apple.”

“Still, the fact that the iPhone is collecting and storing location data—even when location services are turned off—is likely to renew questions about how well users are informed about the data being gathered by their cellphones,” Valentino-Devries reports. “The discovery of the iPhone location file comes amid growing concern about cellphone tracking overall. Last week, the Journal reported that Apple’s iPhone and cellphones powered by Google Inc.’s Android software transmitted their locations back to Google and Apple, respectively.”

The Journal tested the collection of data on an iPhone 4 that had been restored to factory settings and was running the latest version of Apple’s iOS operating system,” Valentino-Devries reports. “The Journal disabled location services (which are on by default) and immediately recorded the data that had initially been gathered by the phone. The Journal then carried the phone to new locations and observed the data. Over the span of several hours as the phone was moved, it continued to collect location data from new places.”

Valentino-Devries reports, “These data included coordinates and time stamps; however, the coordinates were not from the exact locations that the phone traveled, and some of them were several miles away. The phone also didn’t indicate how much time was spent in a given location.”

Read more in the full article here.

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

Related articles:
Android phones regularly transmit location data to Google ‘at least several times an hour’ – April 22, 2011
House Democrat questions legality of Apple’s iPhone, iPad location tracking – April 21, 2011
Apple’s iOS location tracking file caused by a bit of unfinished code? – April 21, 2011
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

41 Comments

  1. Must be another slow “news” day. Everyone using “Apple” in their headlines to attract readers. I guess Apple Inc. needs to explain the content of this file and how it is used by iOS.

    1. Actually, it was already explained by others: Apple gathers its own database for “Assisted” part in “Assisted-GPS” technology, id est coordinates of cell towers.

      The data is continued to be gathered in hope that user will someday once turn “Location services” “on” and then collected coordinates will be allowed to be sent to Apple to be an addition to the database for A-GPS. The time is needed for Apple to automatically compare sent coordinates to available in their database and either ignore the new data, if the time is old, or update it (cell towers sometimes get disassembled in old places, reassembled in slightly different places, or disassembled totally, or appear in new places, etc.)

      Also, the data is collected *always* to avoid quering/online checking for towers’ coordinates in the areas where user already have been when user will someday turn “location services” “on”. The phone will not spend electricity and time for such checks in the same area — the data is already there in the phone.

  2. Love how they gloss over “don’t appear to be transmitted back to Apple”

    This is nothing new or surprising – every phone, and certainly every smart phone – is collecting data. How else can the phone provide you with all the services required? Magic? Common sense folks – grow some. And another common sense item – stop looking to WSJ and NYT journalists for tech info…

    1. Common sense, steve516? Common sense would dictate that when a user turns off location services on the preferences panel, that the device would actually turn them off. This is a flaw if it doesn’t. Apple needs to fix this.

    1. did the tin foil hat fall off today?

      and you should mention that untrackerd requires a jailbreak.
      never been proven the file is sent to apple, unlike the article the other day that proved the android devices are.

  3. These self appointed ‘technical’ journalists are beginning to annoy me again. It’s the nature of a ‘cell’ phone to have to know and keep track of where the freaking phone is!! Duh. The fact that there are many services and thousands of apps that require this info to work efficiently is the main reason why this data is needed. True there may be somethings sneaky going on in some of it for advertising, but to make a big deal out of a ‘cell’ phone keeping track of where the phone is, is an attempt to take advantage of people’s fear and create some headlines IMO. And for God’s sake don’t get the Congress/Senate involved. Those clowns always put their grand standing above all else and will sell their mother to see their name in print. It’s my understanding that Apple’s iOS ULA tells you they’re using this collected data. My guess is most iPhone users never read it and just ‘agreed’ to it’s terms.

  4. It is irrelevant what the competition is doing, I expect better from Apple. Apple would do well to give a prompt and sharp response to this, which I think had been a lousy oversight on their part. No excuses, apologise, rectify and move on. Quicker the better.

  5. This grows tiresome, The concept of having a phone track it’s location continuously is not a big deal. No privacy issues are violated if the transmit function is suppressed, and the user has the ability to do that. Now how many tens of thousands of apps would not work without this feature, I think the users would be surprised. I think the reason congress is up in arms is because those that have smart phones now realize that their location can be tracked 24/7 as long as they have their phones with them, also Apple does not have a monopoly on this technology. People tend to forget that the location feature in cell phones was mandated by none other than congress when people died after being caught in snow storms in the Dakota’s even though they had cell phones with them they could not be located in time. The feature is not just in smart phones it’s in dumb phones also. Congress was also complicit when the department of homeland security sequestered the records of the big 3 cellphone companies under the guise of rooting out terrorism. Where was their call for privacy then??? How hippocritical can you be? This feature has been in cell phones for years so why vilify Apple and not other phone manufacturers? I guess it’s like the old saying goes ,the only conscience that 435 little pricks can have is on how to screw the public.

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