Security researchers have uncovered a secret file in Apple’s iPhone that keeps track of it’s users every movement. The file records the latitude and longitude of the phone’s coordinates along with a time stamp. This information is also recorded to any computer the phone is synchronized with. It appears that this file was apart of the iOS 4 update released in June of last year.
“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, one of the researchers.
Warden and fellow data scientist Alasdair Allan say the iPhone is the only smartphone that tracks user locations this way. “Alasdair has looked for similar tracking code in Google’s Android phones and couldn’t find any,” said Warden. “We haven’t come across any instances of other phone manufacturers doing this.” Apparently the file is also transferred to new devices when an older version is replaced “Apple might have new features in mind that require a history of your location, but that’s our specualtion. The fact that the file is transferred across to a new iPhone or iPad when you migrate is evidence that the data-gathering isn’t accidental.” But they said it does not seem to be transmitted to Apple itself.
In 2009 Google was criticized for given users of it’s mobile devices the option to to give out details of their location to trusted contacts, the iPhone system on the other hand seems to record the data whether or not the user agrees. Apple declined to comment on why the file is created or whether it can be disabled. They may have a legal defense though as the terms and conditions of their iTunes program when synchronized with iPhones, iPods and iPads, has an 86-word paragraph about “location-based services”. It reads as follows:
“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.”
But what if you don’t use iTunes or any location based services? Than what reason could they possibly have to record the data?
Warden and Allan have set up a web page which answers questions about the file. The site has a downloadable application to let Apple users check for themselves what location data the phone is retaining.