Watch Out: Your iPhone Knows Where You've Been

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Watch Out: Your iPhone Knows Where You've Been

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Researchers have discovered that Apple's iPhone records timestamped GPS information in a secret file on every handset.

Most people who have an iPhone always have it on them. The device is incredibly useful for browsing the web, playing Angry Birds, and occasionally making a telephone call if you can get service. But unfortunately the iPhone is also useful as a surveillance device for anyone with the technical savvy to retrieve a simple text file. The tracking seems to have begun in June 2010 with the iPhone 4 update to the OS and the data is stored on the phone but is automatically transferred to a computer when the iPhone is synched without the user's knowledge. Pete Warden and Alasdair Allan plan to present the discovery at a conference in San Francisco today, which is sure to raise some privacy concerns about what Apple does with the data collected.

"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.

The file is recorded in both 3G enabled iPhones and iPads but the researchers did not find similar tracking in Android-powered phones. Warden and Allan have set up a website with a simple application that retrieves the information in the file and maps that data into an image of your movements.

What Apple intended the file to do is up for speculation, but it is worrying that the file is transferred when you set up a new device. "Apple might have new features in mind that require a history of your location, but that's our speculation," Warden said. "The fact that it is transferred across [to a new iPhone or iPad] when you migrate is evidence that the data-gathering isn't accidental."

Privacy experts are up in arms over the existence of this secret tracking file. "This is a worrying discovery. Location is one of the most sensitive elements in anyone's life - just think where people go in the evening," said Simon Davies, director of a group called Privacy International. "The existence of that data creates a real threat to privacy. The absence of notice to users or any control option can only stem from an ignorance about privacy at the design stage."

While it's true that most phones record current GPS data, that information is only available to authorities such as the police or the FBI after a judge has issued a warrant for such surveillance. The fact that anyone can grab that information from your iPhone with a simple download seems like a massive oversight on Apple's part.

And why was it necessary to track that information anyway? What would Apple intend to do with the logging of its customers movements that it would risk such privacy concerns?

I demand answers, Mr. Jobs!

Source: Guardian

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HA! I don't HAVE an Iphone!
Enjoy Big Brother Stalking you, Conformists!

im glad i only ever bought an ipod touch 3g for the apps and my mobile cost $40 :p.

This is apple. It is not the least bit surprising that they would pull something like this.

And this is why I don't buy Apple products.

And I think I know what they're doing with it, or will be doing. They're probably planning to sell it to advertisers or anyone who wants info on someone else. Again, this wouldn't surprise me at all.

Screw you Apple.

HankMan:
HA! I don't HAVE an Iphone!
Enjoy Big Brother Stalking you, Conformists!

I don't have an iPhone either. When Apple initiates The Takeover they will have a bit of difficulty finding me.

Everyone else though: enjoy the labor camps and, off-world silicon mining! I and the rest of the resistance (Android-based and likely named after HK-47, the most bad-ass of droids) will be with you after a good, long "We told you so".

The Palm Pre is even worse. Still, that's completely stupid.

So does every other smartphone on the market (I call bullshit on the Android not doing it). Why is this news?

I, for one am glad it tracks where I've been. That way if I ever black out for a few days I know what happened.

Fuckin Apple.

Can't wait for my contract to be up so I can get rid of this fucking thing.

Everybody in the 'hood knew that po-po be using them smartphones to monitor where you been and who you talk to and what you talk them about. That's why we all buy TracPhones from the bodega, throw them away when they run outta minutes, and then go buy a new one. Besides, we all got shitty credit. We can't qualify for no yearly service contract.

Just 'cause we poor and in the 'hood don't mean we stupid.

My guess is its probably used for GPS tagging photos. The iPhone and many other smart phones these days will tag your pictures with a GPS location. So you can browse your album by photos taken at a location (say, all photos you took during a trip in Boston, or while you were at the club the other night).

Rather than adding a GPS location into the data file for every picture (which I would imagine would be a lot more data if you took a lot of pictures), its probably more efficient for them to just make a log that says "At 10:00 PM on 20 April 2011, you were at X, Y coordinates" then just compare the photos time stamp to the GPS list.

For that functionality to work when you migrate phones or (possibly) with applications on the computer that can also sort photos by GPS location, that file (obviously) has to be copied as well. I doubt its an intentional "We want to know where you are!" move by Apple.

If you're honestly that concerned about privacy and concealing your movements and locations that you enraged over a file on your phone (and computer) tracking your location that 99.9% of the population will never know about and never would go looking for in the first place, then there's still holes in your logic. Why haven't you password protected your computer login so someone trying to spy on you can't get access to your data? Why have you left your phone, also not password / keypad protected, where someone can get to it? Both of those things, regardless of the GPS tracking file, give people WAY more personal access to your activities and misbehaviours than this one file.

Somewhere an apple executive is exclaiming "Curse you Pete Warden and your meddling dog"

Good thing I always have my GPS turned off. Unless it some how tracks my phone even when off. If that's the case then who wants to buy a used iphone?

How is this news? Just about any company can do this via tracing calls, Apple is just less subtle about it.

Sounds a lot like the Buzz debacle.

Yet another reason why I have just have an Ipod Touch in conjunction with a basic $20 samsung flip phone.

Global Stalking? There's an app for that.

No worries, I have a Droid. I disabled this sort of thing when Facebook started doing it too. I'm not paranoid or egotistical to the point of thinking anyone would care to track me, but I prefer to make the conscious choice of letting people know where I am. I don't like location stamps on my updates and I'm still capable of sorting through the few photos I take without needing to organize them by place.

Orannis0:
Yet another reason why I have just have an Ipod Touch in conjunction with a basic $20 samsung flip phone.

What makes you think your Touch isn't tracking you through your wi-fi connect?

Oh, Apple. You never fail to make me hate you.

Ephraim J. Witchwood:
So does every other smartphone on the market (I call bullshit on the Android not doing it). Why is this news?

The news article explained it. Normally, only the authorities can look into your location via GPS. Just like the authorities can look into your texting records if they find it might give a clue on the case.

The iPhone allows ANYONE to download where you've been if you know how to read the text file.

Aeshi:
How is this news? Just about any company can do this via tracing calls, Apple is just less subtle about it.

This as well, not just anyone is allowed to trace a call and find out where it came from. The information is stored, but a phone call must be connected for 30 seconds to be traced. This is just. Every hour "PING! He's here! ......... PING! Now he's here!"

Whatever their goal was, the implementation was bad enough that I feel pretty confident in saying the people responsible do not deserve their jobs, or any other for that matter.

This should have been announced with the update, and explained. It should have been optional, it should have notified the user when activating for the first time, and it should have been something the user can turn on or off.

They had to have known all that, and they did it this way instead. If they didn't see this bad press coming then they are simply too stupid to be working, and should be blacklisted. People with that bad of judgment can only damage things.

Given it was google that pretty much brought such things to consumer tech applications, chances of google device not doing it?

And it's pretty ewasy to stop, just turn off the GPS, it cant record data it's not measuring can it?

Creepy enough that the authorities can tap into your phone or track you with GPS with suspicion and a warrant- or even without the way legislation is going (protecting your freedoms, I mean) but seriously creepy that anyone can do this. Especially the potential for dangerously abusive spouses or exes to find and further torment their victim.

Though Im pretty sure Im not objective on the subject since I have a stepsister with a restraining order against a crazy ex-bf so its a biased subject in the family

...and yet everyone will continue in droves to buy every piece of shi(t)ny plastic that Apple makes a new version of every 3 months.

They will probably say they were using it to develop their own "Check In" app or something, since everyone else in the universe is doing that right now.
More likely they will use this demographic data to somehow make more money and eat people's souls, or just sell it to third party marketing firms.

Petromir:
Given it was google that pretty much brought such things to consumer tech applications, chances of google device not doing it?

And it's pretty ewasy to stop, just turn off the GPS, it cant record data it's not measuring can it?

Oh, yes, it can if it's got an override that allows it to continue recording and transmitting data even after you've turned it off. Steve Jobs is a crafty son of a bitch. He thinks of everything.

I don't really have anything to hide, so whom so ever wants to track me can just have at it.

Question: why is Apple allowed to get away with things like this?
It's a simple question,but there's always something with Apple,but people dismiss it and keep buying their stuff.

Caligulove:
Creepy enough that the authorities can tap into your phone or track you with GPS with suspicion and a warrant- or even without the way legislation is going (protecting your freedoms, I mean) but seriously creepy that anyone can do this. Especially the potential for dangerously abusive spouses or exes to find and further torment their victim.

Though Im pretty sure Im not objective on the subject since I have a stepsister with a restraining order against a crazy ex-bf so its a biased subject in the family

It usually takes more than mere "suspicion" to get a warrant from a judge. It takes "probable cause" (i.e., a reasonable amount of suspicion, supported by circumstances sufficiently strong to justify a prudent and cautious person's belief that a person has committed a crime and the warrant, if issued, will lead to the discovery of evidence related to that crime).

I can see this getting really bad really fast. I don't understand the love people have for Apple products. All they have are a few patents under their name. Their hardware and especially their OS is nothing special at all, and as we see here, it tracks you.

I have always suspected all phones made since 2005 can do this and the information has never been made public or official. Not as a conspiracy, more of one of those things that the US Government would to in the name of Security, like back door Phone number access.

Exocet:
Question: why is Apple allowed to get away with things like this?
It's a simple question,but there's always something with Apple,but people dismiss it and keep buying their stuff.

It's just one small step towards their diabolical goal of total world domination. Muu-huu-ah-ah-ah-ah!!

Honestly looks like Apple likes to keep a "secret agenda". They could be using it to develop new ways of advertising and ways for make people waste more money. What is based in the information in the file they decide the locations of their stores. The possibilities seems infinite.

Good thing I still use my good ol' Sony Ericsson and have my latop for internet access

JDKJ:

Orannis0:
Yet another reason why I have just have an Ipod Touch in conjunction with a basic $20 samsung flip phone.

What makes you think your Touch isn't tracking you through your wi-fi connect?

There isn't wi-fi everywhere, and routers/modems don't hold location data unless they're also connecting to a 3G network. At best an Itouch would only provide an infrequent and random smattering of location data for a meager few locations, as most people know enough to at least have WEP encryption.

Well that sounds like such a lovely hidden feature now doesn't it how could it ever go wrong... /sarcasm

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