Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Conspiracy Theorist Beware Your iPhone Is Tracking You

Two programmers have recently discovered that Apple may well be tracking all of its customers using the latest iPhone, iPad, or any device running iOS 4 and a those users companion Mac. The programmers found a rather interesting database stored on their iPhones. Within the files were highly detailed history of their movements, apparently logged via cellphone triangulation. The data is then stored, usually in the clear, on their Mac computer whenever the two devices synchronize.

Programmers Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden discovered the files which they used to create a rather simple called iPhone Tracker, which can take the saved location data and plot it on a map. This lets you see the highly detailed path your iPhone has traced.

In his own blog post, Allan writes, "Ever since iOS 4 arrived, your device has been storing a long list of locations and time stamps. We're 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."

"At first we weren't sure how much data was there, but after we dug further and visualized the extracted data, it became clear that there was a scary amount of detail on our movements," Warden writes. "It also became obvious that at least some other people knew about it, but it wasn't being publicized."

The data collection apparently can't be blocked, and the database itself apparently cannot be removed, though it can be encrypted via the iPhone backup process. "This database of your locations is stored on your iPhone as well as in any of the automatic backups that are made when you sync it with iTunes," Warden writes. "One thing that will help is choosing encrypted backups, since that will prevent other users or programs on your machine from viewing the data, but there will still be a copy on your device."

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