This is a map of everywhere I’ve been for the last months. Everywhere. I didn’t carry around a tracking device. The FBI isn’t sending goons in unmarked vans to track me. All I did was use an iPhone. And if you have an iPhone, you’re being tracked right now, too, whether you like it or not.
It turns out that your iPhone is keeping a record of everywhere you’ve been since June. This data is stored on your phone (or iPad) and computer, easily available to anyone who gets their hands on it.
The enormous privacy startle, apparently enabled by this summer’s iOS 4 release, was discovered by two security researchers, one of whom claims he was an Apple employee for five years. They’re equally puzzled and disturbed by the location collection: “By passively logging your location without your permission, Apple have made it possible for anyone from a jealous spouse to a private investigator to get a detailed picture of your movements,” they explain. All it would take to crack the information out of your iOS device is an easy jailbreak. On your computer, the information can be opened as easily as JPEG using the mapping software that the security experts have made for download—Try it yourself.
The data itself is jarringly accurate. Even though it appears to rely on tower triangulation rather than GPS pinpointing (meaning you’re not safe with location services switched off), the map I was able to generate with mapping software the security duo released visualizes my life since the day I bought my iPhone 4 in July. Everywhere I’ve been. Bus trips home. Train trips to visit family. Vacations. Places I’d forgotten I’d even gone. Zoom in on that giant blotch over New York, and you can see my travels, block by block. My entire personal and professional life—documented by a phone I didn’t know was also a tracking device. It’s all accessible—where I’ve been, and when. I don’t want this information bouncing around in my pocket with me.
For now, there is no fix. The only way to remove it from your computer is to wipe your back up files from your computer. But then you have no back ups to restore your phone in case you lose it. And every time you sync your computer, though, it’ll create a new file. And if you do lose your phone, all your tracking data goes with it, right into the hands of whoever found it. And if you upgrade your phone to the next iPhone, the location tracking history goes with it.
Until Apple stops doing this, or explains why they are doing it, I don’t feel safe. I feel weird having all this data that I don’t want recorded on my iPhone, and so do others. Maybe they’re doing it for the government. Maybe they’re doing it because they’re forced to. So far, the researchers have found no proof that the information is being transmitted to remote servers hosted by Apple or the feds. There’s no evidence of that at all. All we have at this point are conspiracy theories. And a lot of information on our phones about where we’ve been, whether or not we want it. [Peter Warden via The Guardian]