Apple tracks your location in iOS 4, without your permission

By on April 20, 2011, 4:04 PM
Researchers Pete Warden and Alasdair Allan have discovered that iPhones and 3G iPads regularly record your position into a hidden file called consolidated.db. Ever since you upgraded to iOS 4, your device has been storing a long list of latitude-longitude coordinates and timestamps. The coordinates aren't always exact, but there are typically tens of thousands of data points. The location is likely being determined by cell-tower triangulation, either triggered by traveling between cells or activity on the device itself. Furthermore, all this data is being stored across backups, and even device migrations, according to O'Reilly.

The presence of this data on your iPhone, your iPad, and your backups has serious privacy implications. To make matters worse, the file with said data is unencrypted and unprotected, and it's on any machine you've synced with your iOS device. If your device is stolen, the perpetrator can jailbreak it and easily access the file in question, and will be able to see where you've been over the last year, since iOS 4 was released.

Cell phone companies have always had this data, but it takes a court order to access it. Now this information is sitting in plain view, unprotected from the world. If you want to protect your data, you can encrypt your backups through iTunes (click on your device within iTunes and then check "Encrypt iPhone Backup" under the "Options" area). Warden and Allan also built iPhone Tracker, an application that lets you look at your own data. The application and its source can be downloaded from our download section.

The good news is that there is no evidence to suggest this data is leaving your custody. Still, it's not clear why Apple is gathering this data, although the way it is implemented shows that it is intentional. Apple has yet to release a statement in regards to this issue.




User Comments: 41

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Guest said:

Did anyone expect anything less from this dirty company?

Guest said:

Can't wait to hear how people try and spin this one. I read the same thing over there at MacRumors and you would think apple was doing you a favor by reading their comments.

Guest said:

So, they'll know that I've spent 90 percent (or more) of my time at work and at home? And that I like the Chinese food restaurant down the street?

NOOOOOOOOOOO! Make it stop!!

gwailo247, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

Guest said:

So, they'll know that I've spent 90 percent (or more) of my time at work and at home? And that I like the Chinese food restaurant down the street?

NOOOOOOOOOOO! Make it stop!!

Not quite as funny if your wife's/girlfriend's/mother's iPhone gets stolen from her on the street and the people know exactly where she lives or works. Its easy to change your number, not quite so easy to move or change jobs. Cause its not as if women haven't been stalked without the benefit of an electronic log of their whereabouts since they bought their phone.

Its one thing having the data on the company servers, its another to be freely accessible by anyone who picks up your phone.

And considering this data is also stored on devices which have never been activated by a cell carrier, just using wi-fi, makes it even worse.

So when you get stopped by a cop and he asks to search your car, do you fall for the "if you have nothing to hide, let me search your car" argument? Probably not. If someone you don't like it does it, its a rape of your civil rights. If your bearded demi-god does it, its a "feature".

aj_the_kidd said:

Guest said:

So, they'll know that I've spent 90 percent (or more) of my time at work and at home? And that I like the Chinese food restaurant down the street?

NOOOOOOOOOOO! Make it stop!!

Ah, iSheep always good for a laugh

Route44 Route44, TechSpot Ambassador, said:

Ah, iSheep always good for a laugh

I like this!

Gars Gars said:

its oblivious

iSheeps sre all around

just pickup1

..

just ask for the USB port

haha

..its not that funny

jink said:

Just because your paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you!

Guest said:

Welcome to 1984....

.....George Orwell.

tonylukac said:

Sort of like any gps device.

jink said:

fear is the mind killer

-Dune

mosu said:

Thank you, guys don't tell my wife! Seriously, on a GPS device you can freely delete tracks. I wonder where is all that data sent...

Guest said:

Honestly don't care. I go to work/school most of the day, and I'm pretty sure I have a much higher probably of being attacked on the street just to steal my stuff then someone casually taking my phone just to run home, hook it up to a computer, find the file in question, interpret my coordinates from latitude and longitude, put together a common route/time I'm at any given place so they can THEN go find me and attack me.

People get so paranoid about something that has the POSSIBILITY of happening even though it's not a very logical thing to ever happen.

Guest said:

not "without your permission". if you read the terms of service before clicking agree (as if anyone does) you would see that you ARE giving your permission. so nyah.

Guest said:

I am sure that Apple has already patented this "feature" so nobody else can use it.

Guest said:

Apple = evil

Guest said:

Actually, I think people would be surprised to know that almost ALL cell companies are sending their positional data to companies that produce traffic flow information. The "consent" to transmit this data freely is buried very deeply in the EULAs and contracts. The information is supposedly scrubbed but could very easily be tied to a particular mobile device. These are known in the traffic world as "probes". There are also devices that are stationary at the sides of roads and embedded in the roadways that measure traffic flow. These are referred to as "sensors".

Guest said:

it has to go. has no legitmate legal purpose

Guest said:

I have found that there people who I dont know see and watch me in the street and I dont even carry a phone , magic

Guest said:

I see the Fan Boi Brigade is out in force.

God forbid that someone wants to have privacy, I guess.

Glad I got a Xoom!

Guest said:

i wonder if they have figured out how to snap photos with my camera app without me knowing...i probably agreed to that to when i clicked "agree to terms and conditions"..damn they got me.

Guest said:

Know what? My iPhone also holds a log of my phone calls. It has a list of all of my contacts and their personal information including phone numbers, physical, and email addresses. And it knows my appointment schedule for the next three months. I don't care that it records its location because that information isn't shared with anyone. Apple's business model doesn't revolve on following people's behavior. There is one company to watch whose entire business model is based on understanding your behavior--Google. They scare me more.

Guest said:

Sound's about right--------- The Apple is rotten , again. (again, again).

Guest said:

my phone went to las vegas without me... lol

Guest said:

Android records user location from day 1, so what?

Guest said:

Yes, they have. Your cell can be hacked and your camera used and sound recordings made at any time without your knowledge. Turning it off makes no difference. The only time you have secure privacy is when you remove the sim.

Guest said:

Big Brother is watching you.

Leeky Leeky said:

Yes, they have. Your cell can be hacked and your camera used and sound recordings made at any time without your knowledge. Turning it off makes no difference. The only time you have secure privacy is when you remove the sim.

I doubt removing the sim card would render any mobile phone with wireless safe from being hacked. Hell maybe even having wireless isn't an issue either.

As for Apple, I don't really see the issue - It has as many advantages as it does disadvantages, and should someone really want to stalk you, the last place they'd physically look is your mobile phone anyway, it would be too obvious.

As for being mugged..That's just as unlikely. Do you seriously think someone would force access to your phone, read this file, THEN mug you again? Most theft is opportunistic, therefore your more likely to have it stolen because your brandishing it in the street and drawing attention to yourself by doing so.

Guest said:

I do not agree with the fact that Apple was logging this information without my knowledge. However, I do wish that people would take the time to uncover and understand the facts before they begin commenting on something. I've looked at the logs from my devices, and my wifes device. The accuracy of the coordinates is not that good. You can tell the relative vicinity you are in, but not necessarily the exact location. The accuracy likely varies across locations depending on cell tower and wi-fi coverage, etc. But in general its not accurate enough to tell what restaurant you were in, or that you were shopping at a specific store. Also, Apple is logging the last time it located you at a set of coordinates, and it's only logging those coordinates once. So you can not recreate a pattern of activity, or even track a route on a given day. For instance, the point logged "near" my house only shows up once, even though thats where I use my devices the most.

Mark

Guest said:

There is only one real reason this data is collected:

It is used for database mining for targeted advertising

If you are going to profit from it, give me the option to opt out.

mario mario, Ex-TS Developer, said:

Sensationalism at its best, what a shame

captaincranky captaincranky, TechSpot Addict, said:

This is just the same as every other manufacturer that feels obligated to monitor their equipment on site. The argument pro and con is, (IMHO), moot. Privacy is an inviolable right, and these manufacturers are violating it at every opportunity.

This is the same crap as Realtek's monitoring software that, (used to, or perhaps still does), report back every time the sound card in your computer was turned on. And they needed to know this why...?

Adobe uses its "updater" as a web crawler. They very, very rarely offer meaningful updates, but the software runs every time the machine is hooked up to the web. The other day they sent me a notice of an "important update", as it turns out, it was an update to the updater...! Yeah well, that box got unplugged.

Big Brother is watching you.
Welcome to 1984....

.....George Orwell.

If you two have actually read, (or have seen "1984" , you'd know that it can only get worse. After they redo the language, anything you say against Apple will become, "crime think".

Well,

Sensationalism at its best, what a shame
"Sensationalism", in response to a bunch of corporate BS and propaganda is a pretty sympathetic response. You'd hope they'd throw this iJunk in the river, just to see if Apple can get a fix on it there. I say a good dunking separates the men from the boys when it comes to antennas. (Was I holding this correctly when I threw it in the river? I'm not getting a signal).

I can't for the life of me understand why so many people simply accept the word of a large corporation. Apple say's, "it's for your own good", and the automatons nod in agreement.

MilwaukeeMike said:

Sure, printers have recorded every document sent through at the office and my grocery savers card records what I buy there, but this seems a bit worse to me. It's not that I care if anyone really knows where I am, but in the wrong hands this is very dangerious information.

Think if you're a criminal and get ahold of someone's movement patterns. In 5 mins they'd know the perfect time to break into your house, knowing full well your house is empty between say 2-3pm every day. They'll be confident knowing they've got a whole hour to collect the best stuff they can find. Or even worse, they'll just check your door each day and wait till you forget to lock it, neighbors wont' even see anyone break in.

Guest said:

These guys used to do the same thing)

http://fineartamerica.com/featured/nuremberg-and-the-ipods-k
vin-davidson.html

captaincranky captaincranky, TechSpot Addict, said:

This crap made the network news (CBS at least) tonight. Nobody seemed to think that this is a good thing, being tailed by Apple.

superty12 superty12 said:

Next few months: Apple gets sued over location tracking.

Guest said:

I believe that they could use it for contextual advertising. In this case it is not even necessary to sent this data anywhere, an app on the phone could use it and decide what to show you...

Guest said:

Read this article yesterday, and was vividly reminded of it today, as I updated the software on my iPod Touch. The license agreement that I had to approve in order to update the software included, among other things, the following sentence:

"Apple and its partners and licensees may transmit, collect, maintain, process and use your location data, including the real-time geographic location of your iPod Touch."

RaiDeR55 said:

What if you jailbreak your iphone.Does the phone still create that file?Since you aren't running a standard Iphone anymore..I havent read any where that it does or doesn't.

captaincranky captaincranky, TechSpot Addict, said:

Read this article yesterday, and was vividly reminded of it today, as I updated the software on my iPod Touch. The license agreement that I had to approve in order to update the software included, among other things, the following sentence:

"Apple and its partners and licensees may transmit, collect, maintain, process and use your location data, including the real-time geographic location of your iPod Touch."

See, now that makes it all right! They'e really babysitting their hardware, nobody should take it personally.

Hooda thunk the Apple EULA includes permitting the installation and operation of spyware. Certainly nor me. I can't read though, I used to work for the post office. But then I don't have any "Crapple" hardware, so my literacy handicap is not vulnerable to exploit.

Archean Archean, TechSpot Paladin, said:

+1 aj & Route (Hi !)

I like this 'iSheep' thing, so I declare that everyone who is Apple fanboy, should be classified as 'iSheep' from hereon in.

By the way if someone want to stop Apple tracking you through this hideous feature, look here.

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