Your iPhone Logs Where You’ve Been. Why?

By  |  Wednesday, April 20, 2011 at 8:43 am

Where have you been lately? If you’ve got an iPhone or a 3G iPad, it knows. And two researchers have discovered that these devices store a record of your locations in an unencrypted file that gets backed up to your computer.

The researchers says that the information seems to be based on cell-phone tower¬†triangulation, not GPS. They’re going to discuss what they’ve found at today’s Where 2.0 conference in Santa Clara, California. They’ve also released an open-source Mac application that maps out information from the file. That’s data for the iPad 2 I’ve been using at right, correctly showing that it’s been all around the Bay Area and also visited Austin, Texas.

What’s the file for? Good question. Apple hasn’t yet responded to requests for comment, say the researchers. But it’s a startling discovery, especially considering that iOS devices require that you grant permission before an app gets access to your location. The file apparently has scads of such data, and the Mac app proves that software doesn’t need any permission to dig into it. Apple needs to explain what’s going on, and probably needs to make changes. (Encrypting the file sounds like a good start.)

Should iPhone and iPad owners be worried about this discovery? Me, I’m less rattled about the specific ugly scenarios–which involve people like jealous spouses and private investigators gaining access to the file and snooping on your wanderings–than I am about the general fact that our phones can collect more personal data about us than any gizmo before them. Most of us blithely assume that they’re doing so only in appropriate ways, and are safeguarding it appropriately. This finding is a helpful reminder that we don’t really know what the heck is going on.


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8 Comments For This Post

  1. The_Heraclitus Says:

    Steve to Apple customers: All your location data are belong to us. And, maybe anyone else who gets access to the computer you sync with…

  2. Joseph Says:

    Our wonderful gov't is probably demanding Apple obtain this data and pass it along to them, so they can continue in their Big Brother ways.

  3. Reddog_X2000 Says:

    I got 3 words for ya, "Class action Lawsuit".

  4. Mark Says:

    Here's what I always wondered about people being paranoid about "being tracked" (way too many of ya): …. WHY? Are you doing something illegal or that suspicious and questionable that warrants such attention? The only people that should be worrying about being tracked … are criminals….. If you are not doing anything wrong … WHAT THE F ARE YOU WORRIED ABOUT????

  5. The_Heraclitus Says:

    How can you type with your head so far into the sand? Kudo's for that neat trick.

  6. The_Heraclitus Says:

    Bzzt! Wrong David. Apple cares. That's why your location is uploaded to Apple HQ every 12 hrs.


  7. Kyle Says:


    That’s exactly the problem: If we’re NOT criminals, WHY do we need to be tracked?

    It’s as if the world’s population cannot be trusted to be be law-abiding citizens of whatever country they live in, so they all have to be treated as though they were criminals; easily tracked and traced by whoever happens to be in government at the time.

    This could also be a predecessor to a wonderful futuristic idea of targeted adverts….. (SPAM)…

    You’re driving down a street and you get ten messages telling you about five different shops you could visit whilst on that road, all of them offering specials on one or other product.

  8. touch screen gloves Says:

    I f u have an iphone or ipad ,i would like to say a good news for u, 2011 new style iPhone gloves ,you are worthy to it !