We love our iPhones because they can do so much. It’s like having a Mac in your pocket. A smart phone that’s so smart it records the location of every place you take the phone.
The locations are stored deep in the iPhone, in a secret file. With the right Mac app you can unlock those files and get a great graphic image of every place you and your iPhone have been.
I Heard The News Today, Oh Boy!
The hot news of the day is that your iPhone tracks wherever you (and your iPhone) go. The data is stored in a secret file on your iPhone and it gets transferred to your Mac when you sync devices.
Security researchers stumbled upon the file, filled with longitude, latitude, and time-stamp information.
The iPhone has been collecting and storing such data since iOS 4 was released in June 2010.
How easy is it to dig out the information and display it on your Mac? Remarkably easy. It took me about four minutes from beginning to end.
Mac user Pete Warden created an open source app that grabs the information from iTunes, and maps it so you can see where your iPhone has been and when. Click here to read the details, FAQs, and to download the app.
The app reads the data from files stored by iTunes after being synchronized from your iPhone. Then the data is displayed on a map. The results are nothing short of amazing. If anything, I found that I don’t get out enough.
Is that cool, or what?
Since picking up my iPhone last summer, tracking data shows that I spend too much time in town, though a few trips to the North Shore of Oahu are prominently displayed, including frequent visits to my son’s home, various shopping centers, and a few beaches.
All that data is collected by my iPhone and stored, then synchronized with iTunes on my Mac. In essence, your iPhone is tracking where you go and when you go.
Can Apple legally do that? Yes. It’s one of those things we agree to in the iTunes Terms and Conditions.
Apple and our partners and licensees may collect, use, and share precise location data, including the real-time geographic location of your Apple computer or device. This location data is collected anonymously in a form that does not personally identify you and is used by Apple and our partners and licensees to provide and improve location-based products and services. For example, we may share geographic location with application providers when you opt in to their location services.
Can that location data be used against you?
Yes. It took me barely four minutes to sync up my iPhone to iTunes on my Mac, double-click the open source app which retrieves the data and displayed the locations I traveled on a map on my Mac.
Ostensibly, if you lose your iPhone, it would be trivial for someone to track your whereabouts day by day, hour by hour.
Of course, losing your iPhone means all your contacts, addresses, email and text messages go with it, so I question how valuable day-by-day whereabouts might be, but I’m sure law enforcement agencies could use it to determine that you were in the vicinity of where your boss’s body was found.
The data collected appears to be triangulated cell tower information, not exact GPS information. Still, that whole Mac “1984 won’t be like 1984” takes on a different look. Does such data tracking worry you?
UPDATE – Apple’s response (a PDF file) to Representatives Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas), Co-Chairmen of the House Bipartisan Privacy Caucus, and their request for information about the tracking log.