One of the stories taking the internet by storm: the iPhone is tracking everywhere we go and storing that data in great detail (longitude, latitude, and timestamp down to the second) both on the iPhone itself and on any computer to which the iPhone syncs.
Now, of course, we all agreed to let Apple do this to us. Our agreement is buried down deep inside their terms of service, as has been pointed out by an article on this matter. You don’t get to use the Apple iPhone or iTunes without being forced to agree to this and god knows what else.
The researchers who discovered that Apple is tracking our every move (Alasdair Allan [[email protected]] @aallan on Twitter and Pete Warden [[email protected]] @petewarden on Twitter ) have cobbled together a free application available for download that will read the hidden files on your computer and iPhone and show the data on a map which can play back over time. Rather than playing back the massive amount of data from second to second, which is the precision level Apple is logging, the application plays your data back from week to week and on a more slightly generalized grid rather than the precise longitude and latitude Apple is logging. I downloaded it and have actually watched myself as I traveled around the US for the past few years. (I always shut the phone off when traveling abroad.) It’s sort of weird.
I found this interesting and was impressed by two key points:
- Apple has been doing this to me for a long time. Trips I had taken years ago, most likely when I had my very first iPhone, are in the log. So this log file passes from one iPhone to the next.
- The log file contains a great deal of inaccurate information. It indicates that I’ve been out in the middle of Pensacola Bay, in an area no where near a bridge, for example. I found lots of isolated spurious location information–a single lone dot just out in the middle of nowhere. Too much of the data is grossly inaccurate. As one commenter stated, “Unless my iPhone gets up and travels by itself, A LOT of these locations are just plain wrong. :/” The location data is gathered by triangulating cell phone towers, which is less accurate than GPS. But their triangulation algorithm is not very good.
I’m angry with Apple, who has feigned great concern for their user’s privacy. Supposedly, Apple has required applications on the iPhone to request the user’s permission before tracking your location. Supposedly, Apple has allowed users granular control over their location data. Obviously now, not so. Apple itself has been storing this data for its own, unknown purposes and has remained silent on this matter.
The authors state “There’s no evidence that it’s being transmitted beyond your device and any machines you sync it with.” This doesn’t mean that Apple hasn’t uploaded this file to their servers. This doesn’t mean that Apple isn’t using this data. Why bother tracking this data if they have no intentions of ever using this data? This doesn’t mean that any other application by any other company can not access this data file and use the information for any reason they choose.
I know that privacy doesn’t exist any more. I’ve known this for a long time. Cameras on the street. Every single thing I buy. Every dollar I deposit and withdraw from the bank. Every person I talk to on the phone. Every website I visit. Every place I go in the car. How fast I drive. Every flight I take. Every movie I rent. … Nothing is private.
This isn’t a problem until it is a problem, and then it will be a huge and uncontainable problem. With a government that will freely lie to its people, will freely torture people for its own purposes, with corporations determined to get every dime they can find…
I am alarmed at our indifference to privacy.
- Map your location – that your iPhone records without permission (flowingdata.com)
- iPhone Secretly Records Your Movements (neatorama.com)
- Got an iPhone or 3G iPad? Apple is recording your moves (radar.oreilly.com)
- Apple iPhone tracks users’ location in hidden file (telegraph.co.uk)