Now on iTunes: Every Move You Make

Is your iPhone tracking your every move? It appears so, according to data scientist Alasdair Alan, who announced in April he’d found a file with time-stamped location information, which is shared with any device it synchs to, on the iPhone.

“According to The Guardian, the file that saves your every location contains latitude and longitude on your iPhone with a timestamp which means that where you are, have been and frequent can all be accessed at any given time with a mere sync,” writes Safon Floyd on the OPTIMUM 7 blog. “Anyone who opens the file that backs up your sync can scroll through and see your entire location history. Let’s just hope that you’re not on the run or have a stalker pending because in that case you’re as good as caught.”

While Marc E. Babaj in FORBES magazine’s strategic marketing blog said at first he thought the issue would meet with a massive yawn from consumers, continued coverage in the mainstream feuled the fires. So at some point, naturally, U.S. lawmakers had to get involved.
“Both Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) and Jay Inslee (D-WA) want Apple to address concerns about the recent discovery that iPhone builds an ongoing file that records wherever a user goes,” he wrote. “And now that politicians have identified it as an opportunity to attract publicity while expressing concern, the story could end up taking on a life of its own and force Apple to react.”
Turns out, though, this development is neither new nor as simple as blanket tracking of users.
“Some time ago, a security researcher, Alex Levinson, found out the iPhone was keeping a SQLite database of the iPhone’s location (wifi-based location, cell-based or GPS) and a few other information,” wrote Axelle Apvrille on the FORTINET security blog.
“This issue has recently re-surfaced as two researchers, Pete Warden and Alasdair Allan, wrote a MacOS tool to generate maps from the locations recorded in that database, and are presenting this at Where 2.0 in San Francisco (April 21).”
And, according to Brian X, Chen and Mike Isaac of WIRED, it’s not tracking your every move … technically. It only collects data when you’re using a location-based service.
“Whenever you use an app with a location service — the Yelp app, for instance, to find nearby restaurants — the iPhone gets information about nearby cell towers and Wi-Fi access points, and stores the info … Every 12 hours, an iOS device’s stored geodata gets anonymized with a random string of numbers, and it gets transmitted to Apple in a batch. Apple says it keeps all this data in its own database, so it can provide you quicker and more precise location services.”
Well, that makes it alright, then, doesn’t it? Apparently not.
“But the problem remains that there is no reason for that geo data to remain on your device after it’s transmitted to Apple,” they continue, noting that while Google does collect geographic data, it’s anonymized and untraceable — and it doesn’t stay on the phone.
“Bottom line, this data shouldn’t stick around on your iOS device, because it does nothing but put you at risk,” they write. “ou should care about that, because this problem can be and should be fixed by Apple, and you should demand that.”

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Dave Webb
Dave Webb
Dave Webb is a freelance editor and writer. A veteran journalist of more than 20 years' experience (15 of them in technology), he has held senior editorial positions with a number of technology publications. He was honoured with an Andersen Consulting Award for Excellence in Business Journalism in 2000, and several Canadian Online Publishing Awards as part of the ComputerWorld Canada team.

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