Researchers Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden have found that the iPhone records cell tower access, and hence your location, in an easy-to-read file that is transferred as you switch devices. And they do this whether you like it or not.
The more fundamental problem is that Apple are collecting this information at all. Cell-phone providers collect similar data almost inevitably as part of their operations, but it’s kept behind their firewall. It normally requires a court order to gain access to it, whereas this is available to anyone who can get their hands on your phone or computer.
Allan and Warden provide an open-source application, iPhone Tracker, that maps that data. The good news is that the data doesn’t seem go to be anywhere other than your own backups and devices. Privacy concerns aside, this kind of makes me wish I had an iPhone; although I suspect my map would be painfully boring.
[iPhone Tracker via Marco]
Be careful when saying it’s without permission. It’s in the terms and conditions user has to agree with in order to use the device:
“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.”
Thanks for pointing that out.
This makes you wish you had an iphone? Man, privacy comes cheap in America these days.
Privacy is so last year.
This hidden file is neither new nor secret.
Alex Levinson wrote a book detailing iOS forensics involving iOS 4 devices
Just a thought but Cell size varies (1-20km.) Inner urban areas cell sizes can increase in resolution to 400m to 2 km. Again not that precise. Personally I think this particular point raises much more ethical questions about the right to ones personal information and who in fact is the keeper of such information. Is is right that because its in a Terms of Service that we should be forced to accept it in order to use a particular service.. I cant help think that the consumer is forced down a carte blanche state of affairs when needing to use products.. We’ve all blindly agreed to TOS in the past.. makes you wonder what we HAVE agreed to.. personal towel boy to Bill Gates anyone..???
something clever done around flowing data readers location might be worth exploring?