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Apple Logging Locations of All iPhone Users 591

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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  • by schwit1 ( 797399 ) on Wednesday April 20, 2011 @10:20AM (#35880236)

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

  • by sakdoctor ( 1087155 ) on Wednesday April 20, 2011 @10:21AM (#35880244) Homepage

    Do you really need to invoke a government conspiracy? This is Apple we're talking about.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 20, 2011 @10:21AM (#35880248)

    Look again. There is no link to upload anything only a link to download the application.

  • Mac fanboys (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 20, 2011 @10:22AM (#35880254)

    Can't wait to see how the fanboys rationalize this one.

  • by CelticWhisper ( 601755 ) <celticwhisper AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday April 20, 2011 @10:23AM (#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 @10:25AM (#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 @10:25AM (#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.
  • Evil? Really? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by unassimilatible ( 225662 ) on Wednesday April 20, 2011 @10:28AM (#35880330) Journal
    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?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 20, 2011 @10:32AM (#35880392)

    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.

    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 know why it is there, but it does not really worry or surprise me.

  • by FhnuZoag ( 875558 ) on Wednesday April 20, 2011 @10:34AM (#35880426)
    It's impossible to determine where this data has been sent. Any app has access to it. Access to this file itself is not logged. It could be sitting on the hard drives of any number of app producers.
  • by getNewNickName ( 980625 ) on Wednesday April 20, 2011 @10:34AM (#35880432)
    Stop, breath, think. Turn off location services...
  • by ThunderBird89 ( 1293256 ) <> on Wednesday April 20, 2011 @10:35AM (#35880460)

    Likewise with my Nexus S. I know it tracks itself, because I have joined Latitude and keep my GPS turned on, but I can opt out of Latitude and disable the GPS, so it can't track itself. And at least I own that device, unlike the iStuff, which I apparently only lease from Apple...

  • Find Your iPhone (Score:2, Insightful)

    by blamanj ( 253811 ) on Wednesday April 20, 2011 @10:36AM (#35880464)

    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.

  • by SJ2000 ( 1128057 ) on Wednesday April 20, 2011 @10:40AM (#35880516) Homepage
    Or if you're subject to Discovery [] or a subpoena.
  • by FhnuZoag ( 875558 ) on Wednesday April 20, 2011 @10:43AM (#35880554)
    Why would you know if Apple is receiving this information or not? Access to this file is not tracked.
  • Re:Evil? Really? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MacGyver2210 ( 1053110 ) on Wednesday April 20, 2011 @10:45AM (#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.

  • Re:ummm (Score:1, Insightful)

    by CharlyFoxtrot ( 1607527 ) on Wednesday April 20, 2011 @10:49AM (#35880640)

    1) no evidence location is tracked when you turn off location services (unlikely)
    2) no evidence the file is leaving your phone (or its encrypted backups on your pc), you need to jailbreak the physical device it to obtain it
    3) you could get the same kind of information by looking at geotagged pictures people upload absolutely everywhere.

    The headline gives the impression the phone is phoning home this info to Apple, this is NOT stated in the article. My impression is that it is a cache file which they fail to clean.

  • Re:ummm (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Abstrackt ( 609015 ) on Wednesday April 20, 2011 @10:54AM (#35880702)
    Apples 1984 commercial was the first thing I thought of as well. The irony is almost too much to bear.
  • by FatAlb3rt ( 533682 ) on Wednesday April 20, 2011 @11:02AM (#35880806) Homepage
    Apple isn't receiving any of this information, it's simply being stored.

    Prove it.
  • by vlm ( 69642 ) on Wednesday April 20, 2011 @11:08AM (#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 Applekid ( 993327 ) on Wednesday April 20, 2011 @11:10AM (#35880934)

    Exactly. They didn't add it on request of any government: they added it first and then shopped it around for favors. I wonder if Jobs presented it as "one more thing..." when asking for patent favors from the US or extra security around the factories from the Chinese.

  • by Missing.Matter ( 1845576 ) on Wednesday April 20, 2011 @11:15AM (#35881016)
    Location services serve a function. There still no good reason to log all of the data. This is not a solution.
  • Re:Mac fanboys (Score:4, Insightful)

    by FhnuZoag ( 875558 ) on Wednesday April 20, 2011 @11:35AM (#35881360)
    There's only one way to see if the data is sent somewhere: it's to monitor the iPhone's input and output over an extended period. To my knowledge, no one has done that. In other words, we simply do not know whether this data is sent anywhere - and there are absolutely zero protections against it being sent. However, the way the data is stored, and the way the data is connected per user instead of per phone (being migrated across if you switch phones), makes it seems like presuming that Apple is being totally clean with this is very very naive.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 20, 2011 @12:03PM (#35881744)

    Pretty sure the onus is on those who assert that Apple is tracking you. As the ARTICLE stated, there is no evidence that Apple is receiving this information.

    So yeah, prove that they are.

  • Re:Mac fanboys (Score:4, Insightful)

    by binford2k ( 142561 ) on Wednesday April 20, 2011 @12:09PM (#35881826) Homepage Journal

    Actually come to think of it, it's the CARRIERS that benefit from this data, not Apple. It's not storing your GPS location ... just the location of the cell towers you've hit. So it's giving, essentially, a map of network load caused by your phone. Aggregated with other phones, this would be pretty interesting information to a carrier, you'd think. Perhaps carriers wanted Apple to do this kind of logging? But again, since the data isn't sent to anyone, it's still hard to see how this could be useful for anything other than a legitimate reason related to the phone itself (e.g. caching your previous locations so that it can more quickly use AGPS to pinpoint you again).

    Nice logic. Except that the carriers already know with great precision where you've been anyway. They run the towers you connect to, remember?

  • Re:ummm (Score:4, Insightful)

    by msauve ( 701917 ) on Wednesday April 20, 2011 @01:37PM (#35883072)
    "Apple has location services as something that can be turned off completely"

    It's closed source, so how do you know it's not continuing to collect data, even if that collection isn't made visible to the user? How do you know that the file in question is a result of the location services which can be turned off?

    According to Apple [], "Location Services is on by default, but you can turn it off if you don't want to use this feature or to conserve battery life. You can also individually control which applications have access to Location Services data." Which application do you turn off to prevent this file from being created/updated? Additionally, Apple says "Location Services allows applications such as Maps, Camera, and Compass ... to determine your approximate location." The only example given is with regard to current location, which implies impermanence. There is no mention of keeping a database of historical location information, no mention of how that database might be deleted if desired, and no mention if applications are allowed to access historical data (not just current location).
  • Re:ummm (Score:4, Insightful)

    by phoenix321 ( 734987 ) on Wednesday April 20, 2011 @05:21PM (#35885448)

    Nobody knows for sure, but judging from the evidence presented and the circumstances surrounding them, a clear verdict should be possible.

    A cached database of location points is only created for a reason, especially when it's done on a mobile device, using scarce CPU cycles and even scarcer battery power to do it. The GPS receiver and CPU consume quite a bit of power, which is the most precious resource on a smartphone. Switching on the main radio for triangulating its position when GPS is unavailable is even worse, considering it is then usually triggered inside buildings, where the main radio has to ramp up transmit power to get to their cell tower.

    Fine-grained tracks recorded when no application is actively requesting them?
    An uncalled-for but constant drain on the most precious resource and deciding factor of a smartphone - its battery?
    Neat position databases with no discernible limits in length, just for a cache?
    Large amounts of data synchronized to a new phone via the owner's synced computer, by accident?
    All this effort for a database that until now wasn't documented, unused and unavailable to any existing app in the entire app store, for a legitimate reason?

    All cheaters usually exclaim even when caught red-handed "It's not what you think, it's not what it seems, there's a good explanation for it."

    But all things considered, this is a textbook example of "if it quacks like a duck". And Apple cheated on this one. Face it and show them the door.

  • Re:ummm (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Pieroxy ( 222434 ) on Wednesday April 20, 2011 @06:42PM (#35886006) Homepage

    So I see you suspect malice over incompetence, but you failed to provide the main proof for malice: The motive. Why would Apple do such a thing? What do they have to gain by letting a trail like this on all phones?

Disraeli was pretty close: actually, there are Lies, Damn lies, Statistics, Benchmarks, and Delivery dates.