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Apple Logging Locations of All iPhone Users 591

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the are-you-scared-yet dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The Guardian reports that researchers have found a hidden file on all iPhones, iPads and any computers to which they synchronize, logging timestamped latitude and longitude coordinates of the user since June 2010. A tool is available on their website to check on your own."
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Apple Logging Locations of All iPhone Users

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  • ummm (Score:4, Funny)

    by NEDHead (1651195) on Wednesday April 20, 2011 @09:17AM (#35880186)

    Surprise!

    • Re:ummm (Score:5, Funny)

      by EraserMouseMan (847479) on Wednesday April 20, 2011 @09:24AM (#35880292)
      Don't worry. Steve's just looking out for your user experience. If you really understood what this was about you'd be amazed at how Steve is just doing this so he can wow you and revolutionize your life. Now put the ear buds back in please.
    • Re:ummm (Score:4, Interesting)

      by duguk (589689) <dug@@@frag...co...uk> on Wednesday April 20, 2011 @09:59AM (#35880764) Homepage Journal
      No surprise here. I posted about this ages ago, but everyone argued that I was talking out of my arse by a whole load of iPhone users.

      We knew Apple were doing this nearly a year ago [slashdot.org]

      Next, they'll be sharing it with their 'partners', and using it for direct advertising. You've already agreed to it in the terms.
      • Next, they'll be sharing it with their 'partners', and using it for direct advertising. You've already agreed to it in the terms.

        Obviously you are not an iPhone user, being intentionally disingenuous, or you have not been reading how pissed off the "partners" are about Apple locking up privacy. Any app or content purchase explicitly asks if the purchaser wants to share info, and he must affirmatively approve of it each time. The idea that iPhone users have already agreed to sharing info with partners in
      • by Qwavel (733416)

        They are not sharing it, they are selling it. That is clearly spelled out in the EULA.

        Imagine if Google did anything like this. People would go beserk.

  • by schwit1 (797399) on Wednesday April 20, 2011 @09:20AM (#35880236)

    Tracking people's whereabouts is truly evil. Wait until the divorce lawyers start subpoena them for location data to help their clients.

    • Evil? Really? (Score:2, Insightful)

      Evil? Then what word do we we use for the Einsatzgruppen and serial killers?

      Let's put away the hyperbole before the language no longer means anything, K?
      • Re:Evil? Really? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by MacGyver2210 (1053110) on Wednesday April 20, 2011 @09:45AM (#35880584)

        There are varying degrees of many things, of which many subsets can be constructed.

        Apple is a Tier-2 evil. They are more evil than the neighborhood bully, but they are less evil than...say, Hitler.

        Just like evil, there are subsets of happy.

        Think about "I just got an 'attaboy' from my boss" happy versus "I just got with this super-hot girl I've been into for a long time" happy.

        • Apple is a Tier-2 evil. They are more evil than the neighborhood bully, but they are less evil than...say, Hitler.

          Not tiers, circles. Dante covered this already.

      • Agreed. Stop the hyperbole. Plain old bole would be more than enough here . . .

    • Good news for Google anyway, it is within the "Application Data/Apple .." folder on Windows, Chrome should access it easily.

      /s
    • Okay I'm all for explaining why this is bad, but why the fuck do we insist as a group using the example of a private eye tracking down a cheating spouse for the purpose of divorce as a reason to take privacy concerns seriously? The average citizen is going to be like "Oh well I don't have to worry about that, I have nothing to hide from my spouse!" even if they are lying to themselves. The political and social leadership will be like "well then don't cheat and you'll be fine!"

      WORST... EXAMPLE...EVAR...

      Here's some better examples for this specific situation:
      1) A burglar determining a pattern when you aren't home so they can rob your house.
      2) A stalker determining the best place to attack you
      3) Someone who doesn't like you smearing your character publicly simply because your phone walked by a strip club (he must have gone in, he's a sinner!!!), even though 2 blocks away is the hospice you volunteer once a week at.

      Let's try to come up with better examples that make people actually care please?

      • by vlm (69642) on Wednesday April 20, 2011 @10:00AM (#35880776)

        Visiting the hiring interview room at a competitor on your day off, with your company issued must-carry phone? This could get really weird...
        Insurance company requiring tracking data to prove you don't go to fast food joints or tobacco shops, and you do visit the gym regularly?
        Police / employers harassing you when they download your coordinates and find out you're volunteering at the "wrong" political election office or you attend the "wrong" church? (Or more likely, at least in the backwards USA, the wrongness would be defined as not attending church at all?)
        Company wants a record of exactly where your phone went on your "sick" day. God help you if you left the house to visit doctor or pharmacy, because thats not "staying home and resting".

        Every day I'm happier I have an ipod touch to do i-stuff with, and a plain ole VM pay as you go phone for that old fashioned "telephone call" functionality. The coolest part is when I drain the ipod battery from screwing around with music / videos / games, I can still do the important stuff like make and receive phone calls. I know people whom absolutely squeal when angry birds fly off with their battery charge and then they can't talk on the phone or text for a couple hours. Lately I've been facetiming thru open wifis instead of making phone calls on my old fashioned cellphone, if everyone I knew did facetime, I'd probably ditch the phone entirely.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Lord_Jeremy (1612839)
          Agreed. I've got a 3-year-old nokia clamshell crap phone that works much better than my girlfriend's Droid X. Seriously, when we're out and want to reach someone it's always mine that is used because her battery is perpetually dead. She keeps bugging me to "upgrade" and get an iPhone or some other similar device. My response is that I already carry around an iPod Touch and iPad, not to mention laptop sometimes. The purpose of a phone is to make phone calls and my week-long-lasting nokia is more of a phone t
      • by vlm (69642) on Wednesday April 20, 2011 @10:08AM (#35880918)

        Let's try to come up with better examples that make people actually care please?

        Oh wait I've got a fun one... The only legal people that matter in the USA anymore are corporations, so ... What is the legal liability to a company that tracks the location of all its employees and then knowingly does nothing with the knowledge of the employee being in an illegal location? Perhaps he's only got a S clearance or entirely uncleared, yet here is proof of him walking around in the TS offices and warehouses... If the company does absolutely nothing with its proof of illegal activity, and later the guy gets caught (camera, whatever) then exactly how liable is the company or its agents as a co-conspirator?

    • by hoggoth (414195)

      The moral is: Turn off your iPhone before entering the Champagne Room!

    • by pclminion (145572) on Wednesday April 20, 2011 @01:23PM (#35883682)

      Imagine that, somebody might subpoena you for evidence relevant to a legal dispute! Shocker!

      A subpoena is a legal process and is not an invasion of your privacy. If you don't want it coming up in a court room, do not do it, say it, or write it down somewhere. Is this hard to grasp?

  • by CelticWhisper (601755) <celticwhisper@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Wednesday April 20, 2011 @09:23AM (#35880270)

    What good reason could they have for pulling something like this? I know, I know, I'm not thinking creatively and/or cynically enough. Give the caffeine an hour or so.

    This is why I'm quite happy with my N900. No carrier lockability, no Big Brother bullshit, and it's a better phone to boot. As the longtime owner of two Power Macs and a 4G iPod (you know, the kind that can run RockBox, that alternative firmware that you guys hate so much) I feel compelled to tell you, Apple, to get bent.

  • we're sooo fucked (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Massacrifice (249974) on Wednesday April 20, 2011 @09:25AM (#35880294)

    Still surprises me how everybody accepts that kind of cryptototalitarian shit while saying while saying "OMG SHINY APPS!!!". Next thing you know, the economy is down for good, the chinese take over, then nobody cant say crap while they get painfully raped up their sociopolitical collectives arses. Fascism? There's an app for that!

  • by unassimilatible (225662) on Wednesday April 20, 2011 @09:25AM (#35880302) Journal
    So you're telling me if someone physically steals my phone or computer, and is able to break the passwords, they can see private info about me? NFW!

    I assure you all that if someone were to do that, I'd have a lot more to worry about than my PC or phone giving up my travel habits.
  • FTW!!!! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Cris CodeCruncher (2048180) on Wednesday April 20, 2011 @09:30AM (#35880360)
    Why were the people who own these products not informed? (or why was the informing done within miles of legal jargon that is the user agreement?) I have a BIG problem with this as I believe that us Canadians still have some privacy laws left.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    The phone logs the data for some reason.
    This is then backed up when the phone is backed up.
    It is never sent to Apple.

    Really.
    I mean, there are millions of things on the iPhone that checks your position. It gets embedded in photos. It gets uploaded to somewhere whenever you start the App you use to order pizza or check phone-directory.

    Also, if Apple wanted to find you they would just send a "find my iPhone" ping to the phone.

    This is a local list saved to the phone only (and then backed up).

    It would be nice to

  • Why did they make an app to just view this information? Why didn't they make one that deleted the information or replaced it with 0's? Wouldn't that have made it more secure?

    • by xMrFishx (1956084)
      That's like covering your eyes and pretending something doesn't exist. The phone will still make more location data and store it next time you sync. Also replacing data != secure.
  • It's not like someone is going to break into your house to steal your iphone location logs. Besides, if my phone or ipad gets ripped-off, It may actually help to reveal where the thief's travels took him. Possibly implicating other theives. I think it's good that Apple is thinking ahead this way. Everyone can be an active participant in crime fighting.

    Maybe this will even be enough of a deterrent that the 'other' handset manufacturers will adopt the same strategy for their devices. It could mean the en

  • Find Your iPhone (Score:2, Insightful)

    by blamanj (253811)

    Apple has a service that allows you to find a lost or stolen iPhone. Presumably, the phone logs its position so it can upload it when asked. Nothing scary here, though the fact this data is available means people will try and extract it. My guess is that the next iOS release will wipe this data every seven days or so.

  • A record of the places my phone has been is kept on my phone or on the back-up on my computer. Since I assume I know where I have been I don't see a problem with it. There is no evidence that this data is being sent to Apple or anyone else.
    • by Microlith (54737)

      If it is being collected you can guarantee it is being sent, how and when is another question entirely. Never mind the privacy implications with respect to other people that may have access to your PC, or law enforcement suddenly knowing everywhere you've been over the last indefinite period.

      But of course, no one has any rights before American Corporations.

    • by drb226 (1938360) on Wednesday April 20, 2011 @09:50AM (#35880654)

      There is no evidence that this data is being sent to Apple or anyone else.

      As the article illustrates, any app you install has easy access to this data.

  • by Hohlraum (135212) on Wednesday April 20, 2011 @09:38AM (#35880492) Homepage

    They are either at the Apple Store, North Face or Star Bucks. Done.

  • by chaim79 (898507) on Wednesday April 20, 2011 @09:40AM (#35880522) Homepage

    Though it is a very fine distinction, Apple isn't receiving any of this information, it's simply being stored.

    From the Article

    Is Apple storing this information elsewhere?

    There’s no evidence that it’s being transmitted beyond your device and any machines you sync it with.

    As bad as some may play it, without Apple receiving this information it's simply information that is stored, not "Big Brother"/Apple monitoring your every move.

    • by FhnuZoag (875558) on Wednesday April 20, 2011 @09:43AM (#35880554)
      Why would you know if Apple is receiving this information or not? Access to this file is not tracked.
    • by burris (122191)

      I get it, it's your phone when Apple is using it to track you, but it's Apple's phone when it comes to deciding what code gets to run on it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by FatAlb3rt (533682)
      Apple isn't receiving any of this information, it's simply being stored.

      Prove it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by znigelz (2005916)

      "The most immediate problem is that this data is stored in an easily-readable form on your machine. Any other program you run or user with access to your machine can look through it."

      Apple may not upload it while syncing or by using a scheduled cron job, but any single individual app can read it. Also, as the others said, prove to me at no event does any proprietary apple application access the file. The location data resolution is set to one second intervals, that is insane. They can easily know when I

  • The data is crap (Score:4, Interesting)

    by 2Y9D57 (988210) on Wednesday April 20, 2011 @09:41AM (#35880528)
    I've checked the data on my iPhone and it's crap. Zero hits on my apartment, zero hits on my office. Hundreds of hits on places I've never visited. During a trip to the UK, I seem to have visited locations arranged on a one-kilometre grid covering most of Yorkshire and Lincolnshire -- which is odd, because I just went to my sister's house. Good luck using that for anything worhwhile.
    • by FhnuZoag (875558)
      As TFA says, the data displayed on by the app is artificially degraded so that the app itself cannot be used as a snopping tool. The raw data stored is far more precise.
  • Karma (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Antisyzygy (1495469) on Wednesday April 20, 2011 @09:41AM (#35880536)
    Apple fanbois couldn't stop bashing Google's wifi tracking, meanwhile saying Apple's ethics are superior. I for one can't wait until lawyers get a hold of this. Karmic retribution.
  • Currently, law enforcement can track cell phones historically via cell site information. This can be useful in breaking an alibi defense, or loosely grouping a band of people together over time. This only problem with cell site information is the fact that cell site info is only recorded as the cell phone is being used. This new info has the potential to tell law enforcement where the phone, and likely the owner, was at times when the cell phone was not even in use.

    As with all things cell phones, most st

  • by adjuster (61096) on Wednesday April 20, 2011 @10:23AM (#35881160) Homepage Journal
    I just dumped the file from my iPhone and imported it into a Google map. I had to check out the source code to the tool at TFA to figure out that the dates are based on an epoch of 2001-01-01 and not the usual Unix epoch date.

    I'm looking forward to using this feature to help me track my location. Since the phone is already doing this "for free" it's not going to "cost" me any more battery power to use this log. It's not as accurate as GPS, but it's accurate enough for my needs.

    Once I've got a cron job setup to offload the file from my (jailbroken) iPhone 3GS to a box on my network I'll work out how to wipe the file on the device after each upload (so that the device isn't carrying around weeks or months of my position data).
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 20, 2011 @10:31AM (#35881286)

    I am just looking into the file.

    The database contains also a huge list of access points.

    basically it seems that for each and every WiFi network the iPhone "sees" (not only if you join it, and even if the network is hidden)...the toy stores the Mac Address of the access point, timestamp of detection, coordinates (including height and accuracy), speed, ...

    See table WiFiLocation
    CREATE TABLE WifiLocation (MAC TEXT, Timestamp FLOAT, Latitude FLOAT, Longitude FLOAT, HorizontalAccuracy FLOAT, Altitude FLOAT, VerticalAccuracy FLOAT, Speed FLOAT, Course FLOAT, Confidence INTEGER, PRIMARY KEY (MAC));

    Mine contains >50000 entries, basically I have the entire WiFi Map of Milano.... nice but, isn't this what Google was fined for doing ???

    Interestingly, each and every iPhone user is doing the same "crime" committed by Google,, but unintentionally (and no, this does not seem to collect packets).

    Andrea Cocito

  • by metrometro (1092237) on Wednesday April 20, 2011 @11:31AM (#35882118)

    As much as I hate to admit that the crazies are right [slashdot.org], these things really are Stalin's wet dream: mobile devices are a wonderland of surveillance hardware. It's past time to push back on this, hard. That means two things:

    1) free and open-source operating systems and
    2) a public policy framework that makes this kind of data logging so terrifying and risky for companies that they really would prefer you to have control over your phone.

    Here's the best shot I've seen at the software side of this:
    http://arstechnica.com/open-source/news/2011/04/for-paranoid-androids-guardian-project-supplies-smartphone-security.ars [arstechnica.com]

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