Two researchers have discovered that their iPhones have been tracking their whereabouts since they upgraded to iOS 4. While hidden, the data is unencrypted.
you have an iPhone running iOS 4, or a 3G-equipped iPad, Apple is and has been
tracking your every move, Pete Warden and Alasdair Allan at O'Reilly Radar
recently determined. Warden is a
former Apple employee and Allan is a senior research fellow at the University
of Exeter, in England.
into Foursquare and you'll expect a time stamp to be attached to a longitude
and latitude record of your locale. The difference here, of course, is that
there's no obvious opting in (it appears that Apple does tell users in the fine
print of its iTunes "Terms and Conditions"). Apple has, therefore, been noting
the whereabouts of each device approximately 100 times a day, according to
Allan and Warden.
not sure why Apple is gathering this data, but it's clearly intentional, as the
database is being restored across backups, and even device migrations,"
the pair wrote in an April 20 blog post.
makes this issue worse is that the file is unencrypted and unprotected, and
it's on any machine you've synched with your iOS device," the two explained.
"It can also be easily accessed on the device itself if it falls into the
wrong hands. Anybody with access to this file knows where you've been over the
last year-since iOS 4
and Allen found the location data in a file called "consolidated.db."
It contains latitude-longitude coordinates with a timestamp, and some other collection
parameters that are less clear. It appears that Apple has been collecting the
data since the launch of iOS 4. Warden explains in a video on the site that
since upgrading to iOS 4 he switched from an iPhone 3GS to an iPhone 4 to
another iPhone 4, after dropping the first one - but his location data was
seamlessly collected throughout that time.
Ken Hyers, with Technology Business Research, says that tracking mobile phone
users is a practice that has gone on for years and is necessary to support 911
calls from mobile phones.
the location data collected by the mobile operators is protected, and can't be
accessed without a court order," Hyers told eWEEK.
"Many smartphone apps on Android, Apple and BlackBerry
devices also collect location data, and, in fact, cannot function properly
without [it]. Popular apps such as Layar require location information in order
serve up location-based information. But this data is anatomized,
protected and, as far as I know, not stored locally on the phone."
and storing data on the phone, however, unsecured and without users' knowledge,
is another thing all together.
think Apple has really fallen down on the job here," Hyers said.
"They need to quickly develop and upload a fix that secures the data and
gives users a way to manage and remove it if they wish. Apple also needs to
clearly explain why the data is being collected and what, if anything, it
intends to do with the data."
Warden and Allan are unsure what prompts the timing of the OS's location
recording, which is erratic - they've reached out to Apple's Product
Security team but haven't heard back - the location information is likely
determined by cell tower triangulation. The pair created and is
offering an application
that offers a visual representation of the
data. In a video
on the site
, for example, you can watch a device travel from
Washington D.C. to New York on an Amtrak train. (It's rather pretty, really.)
announced the results of its fiscal 2011 second quarter
April 20, with revenues
of $24.67 billion and net profit of $5.99 billion. Earlier in the day, AT&T
announced its first quarter earnings, which were bolstered by the activation of
3.6 million iPhones.
at financial services firm Susquehanna International Group are anticipating
that Verizon, which will announce quarterly results April 21, shipped 2.5
million iPhones during the quarter, that Apple's international iPhone growth
increased by 104 percent year over year, and that total iPhone sales were up
111 percent during the quarter, totaling approximately 18.5 million devices.