Apple’s iPhone is not storing your accurate location and not storing history

Peter Batty is VP of geospatial technology at Ubisense. He has worked in the geospatial industry for 20 years and has served as CTO for two leading companies in the industry (and two of the world’s top 200 software companies), Intergraph and Smallworld (now part of GE Energy), as well as a being a founder and CTO of Ten Sails, who provided early stage funding to and later merged with Ubisense. He serves on the Advisory Board of FortiusOne.

In his “geothought” blog, Batty writes:

I believe I have confirmed that Apple is not storing your location, but the (actual or estimated) location of cell towers (and WiFi access points) that are close to you, to help locate you as you move (these are not necessarily towers that you have been in communication with). In the data I have examined there is nothing that is based on the accurate location of the iPhone… In my opinion, if Apple was storing this data in order to know where you had been, they would be storing different, more accurate location data that they have access to.

And, importantly, they are not storing history – the only thing that can be found from the files is when you last visited a general area, not if you made repeat visits. This is especially important as it means that many of the concerns expressed about this data are simply not valid: it cannot be used to determine where you live, or work, or go to school, or who your doctor is.

Read more in the full article here.

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


  1. And I would not be surprised to learn that the state actually forces them to do what they are. Ever heard of 911?

    Security and freedom are diametrically opposed.

    1. I wouldn’t go that far.
      Are you really more secure in N. Korea?

      All societies require you to surrender a certain amount of “freedom” for civility’s sake.

      Finding the balance, just as in many instances, is the key. This also applies to when and for how long. I certainly hope the Patriot Act can sunset at some point.

      1. I agree, I and by 911, I meant emergency call service, not that other thing. We allow the government to know where we are so that when we call 911 they can find us. Then we turn around and gripe that they can find us!

        See? Diametrically opposed. Us carbon units are irrational that way.

  2. Like 99% of sensational Apple-bashing, it takes a while for the legitimate version of what’s really going on to be revealed. So now that’s we’re pretty sure the data is vague and that Apple is not collecting it, where are the cries from Senators about Android location tracking? Is Franken too embarrassed by the fact that his “scathing” letter to Jobs was answered by Apple a year before in a letter sent to his Senate peers? So much so that he can’t be bothered to pound the table and make demands of Android?

  3. I don’t care.
    If anyone really wants to track you, find out where you live, how much money you make, what you look like, employment and criminal history and so on they can and there’s nothing you can do about it.
    This is the world we live in and that’s all there is to it.
    If you aren’t doing anything wrong and such, why worry?

    1. You’re missing the point which that these these paranoids don’t want their wives to know that staying “late at the office” really means going to the bathhouse with Greg.

      1. Which tales us back to the point that you obviously missed: those doing no wrong have nothing to worry about.
        I say that the “data collection” is nothing odious at all.
        So go the bath house with Greg if you like…chances are your wifey will be happier for it.

        1. The problem with your analysis is that-“doing no wrong”-is very, very relative. What if you think your government is criminal and you’re gathering evidence in support of your claim. Is that wrong? The authorities who are listening/tracking you would probably think so.

    2. That’s a great attitude to have. Unfortunately, some of us live in the real world, where cell phones are stolen rather frequently and hackers use every scrap of data available for malicious intent.

      If you believe that no one would possibly do anything wrong with an unsecured data file of yours, so why not just leave open the door to your house too?

    1. What’s brainless is casting dispersions with a wide net. In the first place, being American does not equate to being brainless or trashy. Secondly, it is not just Americans who are up in arms over this whole thing.

      Congratulations on coming off as xenophobic, ill-informed, moronic asshole though.

        1. Next time similar hysteria happens, I bet three of you will jump in without any fact-finding first. You are so typical whining, self-important Americans that you can’t help it.

            1. Let’s see, a comedian Senator Franken(stein) sending a letter, an Illinois Attorney General Madigan(?) demanding a meeting, a Floridian filling a lawsuit. Are these enough of evidences that most of you are ignorant selfish whiner? O, momy, Johny hurt me.

            2. @ OxyMoron… I mean, OpenMind,

              The only way the actions of 3 people would constitute a majority would be if the entire country’s population was 4 or 5 people.

              Whatever place you do hail from clearly does not value teaching basic math skills.

          1. That would be a bet you would loose. In fact, your earlier assertion that it is only Americans who have overreacted to this thing could have easily been disproved had you yourself done some sort of that ‘fact finding’ you hold so dear.

            To be honest, you are doing absolutely nothing to reinforce your argument, while your continual broad generalizations are doing everything to reinforce mine. So, thanks for proving my point.

            Oh, and perhaps you should tell us what completely enlightened country you come from. It would be interesting to learn where this utopia you reside in is.

            1. @Paul

              Oh, and by the way… since your original argument related to understanding my post due to word choice, then one could easily argue your issue was one of semantics, which is a branch of grammar.

              From the World English Dictionary:

              Grammar :
              1. the branch of linguistics that deals with syntax and morphology, sometimes also phonology and semantics

              Further, from Wiki:
              The word “semantics” itself denotes a range of ideas, from the popular to the highly technical. It is often used in ordinary language to denote a problem of understanding that comes down to word selection or connotation.

              Besides, Vocabu-Nazi is nowhere near as catchy. 😉

              Good luck with that stick, try not to get any splinters in your rectum.

            2. @strangermode:
              That’s a creative example of using a string of partial synonyms to try and pretend you meant to say “vocabulary.” Unfortunately for you, you also stated in a previous post that you had “made a mistake.”

            3. @ Paul – Nope, wrong again. I never once inferred I meant to say Vocabulary. Let me see if I can spell this out in a way that your infantile mind can grasp.

              I misused the word ‘dispersion’ in my haste. My bad… it can happen to anyone. Despite this error, most folks here were able to understand what was actually meant. You, however, having nothing better to do chose to ask the eloquent question “WTF is ‘casting dispersions?”. This question implies you have an inability to comprehend my statement due to word choice. I then proceeded to call you out for being a Grammar-Nazi based on the semantic nature of your argument. You then chose to suggest that I am unaware of the difference between vocabulary and grammar – a ludicrous assumption at best. I then proceeded to give counter argument that since semantics is a branch of grammar, my original description of you was correct as written.

              Of course your reply to that reads as if written by a political candidate, a hollow argument that was really lacking in anything substantive. It was a C- of an attempt.

              Ahh yes, then you chose to call me out as being ‘pathetic’. Interesting word choice for someone who has nothing better to do than troll.

              Still, good stuff… I mean I really am enjoying your ridiculous, flailing attempts at relevance. Keep ’em coming!

      1. WTF is “casting dispersions”? Somebody is throwing the act of spreading something out?
        You probably meant “casting ASPERSIONS.” When accusing someone of being an “ill-informed, moronic asshole,” you really should learn to use the language properly first.

          1. Oh, I knew what he meant. The fact remains that he didn’t SAY what he meant, but branded himself as the same sort of ignorant asshole that he was condemning.
            Guess my point was too subtle for you.

            1. There is a big difference between being ignorant, and making a simple mistake.

              Just like there is a big difference between being a xenophobic moronic asshole, and just being a plain old grammar-nazi douche bag.

              And, just in case MY point was too subtle for you to grasp, the latter description would be you.

      1. To be fair, many of the people responding to him have not learned to use the English language properly, either. And that includes several who apparently have English as their native language.

        1. Wow, is that really the only thing you talk about? I mean, really? You have nothing else to add? Do you just troll threads all day of petty little bullshit you can latch on to?

          Move out of your Mom’s basement already, and put those linguistic skills to some useful task.

          1. Ooh, the “mommy’s basement” insult. Oh dear, how wounding!
            Tell you what, strange boy, let’s make a little bet. I bet, based on your overreacting and your attempts at “high-flown” language, that you are about 12 or 13 years old. And I am damn sure that YOU are still living with one or both parents, or at least a legal guardian to look after you.
            I’m sure you don’t care, but in reality I am 59 years old, already retired from the work force, and enjoying a comfortable retirement. Which is something you will never have a chance to achieve unless you lose the attitude and start learning a useful trade.

      2. Misusing a single word does not indicate that I lack the skills necessary to use the English language properly. Your post, however would indicate that shallow insults are the extent of what you can contribute to a conversation.

        Oh, and isn’t delightful how you and your sidekick, Paul both deride my English while using descriptors like ‘dumbass’ and WTF… neither of which are proper words as written.

        Good stuff, you mindless hypocrite.

        PS: I left some punctuation errors in there so maybe you can pounce on those too and show us what a real man you are.

  4. I’m not even an expert and I could have told you this is all that’s going on. It’s only logical on a mobile device that provides location aware services, that a database of location based data be kept locally to cut down on network traffic caused by the need to grab coordinates of fixed radios in your area.

  5. This is how Apple’s stock gets manipulated! Some sleeze bag short trader can easily plant a story that is unflattering (but untrue) in a unheard of publication and simply wait for it to hit the mainstream media.

    As momentum for a story like this builds, the sheep start panicking and the WSJ caps off the perfect storm and AAPL plunges just enough for the Short to make an easy 100k.

  6. Now Apple needs to come out and say as much. Otherwise this will continue to build and become an issue when it could easily be stopped dead by Apple simply releasing a statement saying the same thing.

    This is where Apple’s cloak of secrecy hurts the company rather than taking advantage of a situation, clearing the air, and effectively pointing the privacy dogs on Google (with good justification, it appears).

    1. Agreed. Rather than getting a bunch of comments from people none of us have the ability to check out, why doesn’t Apple make a company statement. Personally, I believe there is a rational explanation. But, I am not certain and I want to know the facts. Without a search warrant that shows cause, no one should legally have the right to obtain personally identifiable information about a US citizen. Storing this information on a cell phone means the information is personally identifiable. Note the operative word “legally”. If someone steals your phone, breaks into your house, etc., that would be considered illegal in most countries. Anything else is unethical and most likely illegal.

      1. Information is there even a year ago. Apple’s fault is that it underestimate how ignorant are these people. These people compliant and whine first, ask questions later.

      2. Without a search warrant that shows cause, no one should legally have the right to obtain personally identifiable information [b]about a US citizen[/b].

        But any other citizenship shouldn’t protect you? Yes, buddy?

        Like the SWIFT financial transaction database that is demanded by the US to control EU citizens? Or the automatic transfer of ALL european flight data to the US? Just to name to examples. Where is MY search warrant?
        Isn’t THAT illegal?

      3. Without a search warrant that shows cause, no one should legally have the right to obtain personally identifiable information about a US citizen.

        That’s right. Not only would it be a violation of my Fourth amendment rights, it’s against the law in California. So why on earth would Apple jeopardize their massively popular brand by harvesting information from our phones without permission? And break several laws in the process?

        They wouldn’t. End of story. There is no gray area here either. Even though smartphones are still relatively new, ethics and the law isn’t.

  7. this might be the most totally BS irresponsible Apple FUD ever.

    the recent “news” about the existence of this cell/wifi site location cache file was not really news at all. other experts had blogged about it before, and Apple had described it precisely in its letter to Congress last year. what incompetent “journalism.”

    on top of that, the wild assumptions that it was storing a precise record of location info, and even sending it back to Apple with users’ ID, is beyond stupid. does “check the facts first” apply to the blogsphere? nope.

    and last but not least, all the pompous breast-beaters could not wait to pontificate on this latest example of digital privacy invasion that someone somehow – government or your ex-spouse – could access for evil purposes, or use to molest your children.

    well, one good outcome is there is now a very good list of all those who did any of the above – a blogsphere registry of incompetnence and shame.

  8. You can view your entire database yourself. It’s in SQL. Like the author of this article, I found all kinds of locations where I hadn’t been. I believe this to be because I used my iPhone on Airplanes with WiFi and when I did, I saw the location of the satellite station, which matches the locations I’ve never been anywhere near with my iPhone.

    Yes, it’s not going to tell you who your doctor is, where your kids go to school, or anything like that, but the database is there, and some people don’t like have information about where they’ve been. It could conceivably be a security issue in terms of someone determining which countries you’ve been to.

    Personally, I like the database, and wish Apple would turn it into more of a user accessible feature that was opt-in.

    However, while I get the need for location caching, I don’t see why it needs to be permanently logged and never purged.

    I took my iPhone 3GS all over Europe once and never again. I took my iPhone 4 all over Europe and into Africa, and most likely won’t take it again. The same with my iPad. So it seems counter that my iPhone has to store all this data in cache, and suffer a cache miss each time it uses the database for rapid location lookup.

      1. @Atlantis,

        I’m not sure why you posted as a reply to my comment above. I’m “not using the right tools?” For what? I never said I was trying to do anything.

        As far as it being a very effective tracking tool, no it’s not. It’s far from being precise enough, and the mere fact that you’d need to filter out the noise exemplifies why it can hardly be considered an end user feature as I mentioned in my comment.

        But as a function for what it was intended to do, it’s also not efficient. My location databases add up to hundreds of megabytes with no purging going on as part of the default operation of the device. This means that both space is being wasted, and there will be cache miss penalties.

  9. I am so sick of all the idiots who keep trying to say this is not a big deal. I am an engineer with the technical means to find the truth and I personally examined the database on several phones myself. It is accurate enough to easily track you and the file IS NOT pruned, trimmed or replaced. Ever. This means if a knowledgeable person gets your consolidated.db, they can easily figure out where you live, where you work, where you have traveled to and more since June 2010. Based on these movements, they can predict where you will be as well. It’s not as accurate as GPS but its close enough to be very effective. This is no joke. Also, there is a program that your government uses to examine this data called Lantern 2.0 (look up on Google). It works very well for extracting all of your data and analyzing it. Also, I have discovered that when one clears their call history and clears SMS messages, BOTH are still on the phone in their respective .db files. They are just no longer visible on the screen. Your iPhone is rich with information that most users assume is gone when its deleted from the screen. This is why many people are jail breaking their phones so they can manage what gets left behind. Also if you decide to sell your iPhone and do a simple wipe, guess what? All of your data is still there and can be easily recovered by the right people.

    1. this is sheer paranonia.

      who cares what cities/neighborhoods i’ve been to? how can that information possibly be used (except for ads, which can’t access it without my opt-in) maliciously?? give me a real life example. and no, the NSA and space aliens do not count.

      about the only person i think would be at risk from this info would be, literally, a spy. but they would never use a smartphone anyway, just burners.

      the sky is not always falling.

      1. No the sky is not falling but this is a serious security issue. It’s your right to not care about yourself but the potential use of the database is very real and can be used to compromise ones security. Additionally, there is a lot more data that gets left around the file system on the phone.

    2. I am so sick of idiot like you so called engineer. No wonder America is going down toilet fast. The file is vague, in your own device all the time. It does not go anywhere else. If someone else got access to your device, contacts, SMS, e-mail, calendars, photos, apps will tell more about you than this damn file. You probably shall worry more about your naked girlfriend pictures in your phone than your locations, or maybe not since you are so pervert that you want whole world to see her.

      1. You are an ass. Believe what ever you want. You have liberty and freedom right? You Americans live in your own little bubble. Some day it will pop and you’ll be forced to live in the real world.

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