Watch Out: Your iPhone Knows Where You've Been

Greg Tito

PR for Dungeons & Dragons
Sep 29, 2005
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Watch Out: Your iPhone Knows Where You've Been



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 [http://petewarden.github.com/iPhoneTracker/] 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 [http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2011/apr/20/iphone-tracking-prompts-privacy-fears]

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Greg Tito

PR for Dungeons & Dragons
Sep 29, 2005
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HA! I don't HAVE an Iphone!
Enjoy Big Brother Stalking you, Conformists!
 

harvz

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Jun 20, 2010
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im glad i only ever bought an ipod touch 3g for the apps and my mobile cost $40 :p.
 
Apr 28, 2008
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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.
 

Shoggoth2588

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Aug 31, 2009
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HankMan said:
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".
 

sunami88

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Jun 23, 2008
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The Palm Pre is even worse [http://yro.slashdot.org/story/09/08/12/1616243/Palm-Pre-Reports-Your-Location-and-Usage-To-Palm]. Still, that's completely stupid.
 

Greg Tito

PR for Dungeons & Dragons
Sep 29, 2005
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So does every other smartphone on the market (I call bullshit on the Android not doing it). Why is this news?
 

thenumberthirteen

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Dec 19, 2007
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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.
 

Wolfram23

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Mar 23, 2004
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Fuckin Apple.

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

JDKJ

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Oct 23, 2010
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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.
 

BishopOfBattle

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Jul 14, 2008
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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.
 

Cipher1

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Feb 28, 2011
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Somewhere an apple executive is exclaiming "Curse you Pete Warden and your meddling dog"
 

Vitvol279

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Oct 1, 2009
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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?
 

Aeshi

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Dec 22, 2009
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How is this news? Just about any company can do this via tracing calls, Apple is just less subtle about it.
 

Orannis0

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Jul 12, 2009
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Yet another reason why I have just have an Ipod Touch in conjunction with a basic $20 samsung flip phone.
 

rsvp42

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Jan 15, 2010
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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.
 

JDKJ

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Oct 23, 2010
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Orannis0 said:
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?