It’s one thing if you open up Foursquare and click “ok” to allow your iPhone to track your location. It’s an entirely different issue if your phone is tracking you without your knowledge. Apple has been tracking your location data in a log file that’s easily accessible from the back-up file in iTunes. Here’s my take on the issue.
As a follow up to Cormac’s post about iPhone Location Tracking, I tried the tracking software that Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden created. I stopped the timeline player on St Patrick’s Day, March 17 since I can recall the events of the day and the locations I visited – I swear I didn’t have too much Guinness. I must say that though it’s a bit creepy, in my experience it wasn’t very accurate. Take note from the screenshot that it shows my location in a perfect matrix pattern and it shows that I was in the near north side of Dublin, which is not accurate either. As far as I can tell, it doesn’t even capture the exact times. At best, someone can know what approximate area you were in on a any given day. It is not logging the GPS coordinates, rather, it uses the cell tower location data to triangulate your position – hence the matrix pattern. Nevertheless, this is a huge privacy issue.
Andy Ihnatko has a very thoughtful analysis of all of this:
A third party couldn’t get access to this file without physical access to your computer or your iPhone. Not unless you’ve jailbroken your iPhone and didn’t bother resetting its remote-access password…or there’s an unpatched exploit that would give Random Person On The Internet root access to your phone.
He also notes “it’s pretty much a non-issue if you’ve clicked the “Encrypt iPhone Backup” option in iTunes.” I agree with Andy that Apple should address this issue immediately. Additionally, there should be a way to opt out of writing to the log file. I can opt out of Foursquare and twitter location, but I have no control over what the phone itself knows about me.
This emphasizes the importance of securing your computer and phone as if they were the keys to your entire life. Apple should also be much more transparent about when it is tracking your location and how.
To try it out yourself, download iPhone Tracker [OS X only]
[via Andy Ihnatko]