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Police Using Apple iOS Tracking Data For Forensics 208

Several readers have sent in follow-up articles to Wednesday's news that iPhone location data was being tracked and stored. First, it seems Android shares a similar problem, though the file containing the location data is "only accessible on devices that have been rooted and opened up to installation of unsigned apps." Developer Magnus Eriksson has created an app to flush this data. Next: the iPhone tracking file is not new, just in a different place than it used to be. Reader overThruster then points out a CNet story indicating that law enforcement has been aware of this file for some time, and has used it in a forensics context. This story is a growing concern for Apple, particularly now that Senator Al Franken (PDF) and Rep. Ed Markey (PDF) have both written letters to Steve Jobs demanding details about the location tracking. Finally, PCMag explains how to view the location data present on your iPhone, should you so desire.
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Police Using Apple iOS Tracking Data For Forensics

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  • by bill_mcgonigle ( 4333 ) * on Friday April 22, 2011 @05:06PM (#35910020) Homepage Journal

    between the cops' ability to subpoena cell phone tower records and this? just a bit more precision? they've been keeping track of this for decades

    No subpoena required. Did you see the article here a few days ago about Michigan sucking all the data off of phones during routine traffic stops?

    Sure, it's patently illegal under the 4th Amendment to the US Constitution, but then again so are suspicionless checkpoints and yet we have Michigan v. Sitz.

    Michigan again - no wonder everybody is moving out.

  • Re:Whoa, whoa. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bennomatic ( 691188 ) on Friday April 22, 2011 @05:19PM (#35910138) Homepage
    There is no reason to panic, actually. Short term solution: turn off location services. Long term solution: Apple reduces the time cached data stays on the phone.

    There's apparently a good reason for the cache, otherwise Android wouldn't do it, too. I can't see a reasonable cause for it to be cached ad infinitum, though.

    Of course, as others have pointed out, bazillions of people affected by this have location services turned on so that they can check in with 4square, add locations to their tweets, do location-based searches on Google, and so on. People are leaving breadcrumbs all over the place. Heck, if they have location services on, I think most smartphones include it in photo metadata, so all someone has to do is look through your camera roll to figure out where you've been.

    Of course, metadata or not, if you've got a picture of yourself in front of a cable car with a news stand nearby, it's pretty easy to tell where you are and when you were there.
  • Yet. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by traindirector ( 1001483 ) on Friday April 22, 2011 @05:25PM (#35910200)

    Its still one of those deals where, as long as you aren't looking at CP or committing financial crime, law enforcement doesn't care about you for the most part.


    The better question is, why are you so comfortable that the huge troves of information collected about you over years and decades won't be used against you in the future? If the information's there, there is surely someone who would like to use it to their advantage. Just because those people (arguably) aren't in power now doesn't mean it's not one disaster, war, or election away from happening.

    It's better all-around just to end these information-collection practices now and head off the future trouble we'll cause ourselves. But information is power, so limiting the information the powers that be have on each of us will be no easy task.

  • by msauve ( 701917 ) on Friday April 22, 2011 @05:49PM (#35910434)
    Google explains what they're doing, and offers the user a choice. When turning on Google Location Services on an Android phone, you get this message:

    Location consent
    Allow Google's location service to
    collect anonymous location data.
    Collection will occur even when no
    applications are running.

    Agree Disagree

    OTOH, it's reported that Apple's location collection cannot be disabled, even if you turn off "Location Services."

    According to the original article about the iPhone file, the location info appears to be based off cell tower triangulation.

    What Google is doing with is mapping the location of WiFi access points. If you have GPS and Google Location Services on, when an AP is seen, it will tell Google the MAC address of the AP, and the geographic coordinates from GPS. This is what lets location services work even without GPS - when your phone sees a WiFi signal, it will ask the mothership where it's located. So, with Android, the user is providing info which in turn helps other users, and it's all being done with knowledge and consent.

    Phones can do something similar based on the cell towers they see, but geographic info on those is available from the FCC and the carriers, so Android doesn't have to collect info on them.

    So, Google is using a phone's location to map the location of WiFi APs, while Apple is using cell tower locations to record the phone's position. Those are two very different things.

  • Usual Apple spin (Score:2, Insightful)

    by bcmm ( 768152 ) on Friday April 22, 2011 @06:08PM (#35910568)

    So here we are again, hearing "everybody else is as bad". Anyone else reminded of how everybody else's phones can be held wrong too?

    Caching the data for a matter of days is not the same as saving it forever and copying it to other devices, just as being an ordinarily radioopaque human is not the same as poking the actual antenna.

  • Re:Whoa, whoa. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by causality ( 777677 ) on Friday April 22, 2011 @06:49PM (#35910972)

    Well, keep in mind that there is a difference between being asked and being told to do something. If a cop asks you:

    "Can I see your cellphone?"

    Then, you're under no obligation to answer in the affirmative. However, if he says:

    "Hand over your cellphone."

    That's a demand and you're legally required (with some exceptions) to comply. Although cops are well-trained and they know how to phrase a question such that it sounds like a demand:

    "I'm going to take a look at your cellphone. Would you hand it to me?"

    The point is that when talking to the police, stay calm and listen to exactly what they're saying. If you're not clear if something is a question or a demand, then ask for clarification.

    I can talk to elderly people who remember a time when cops were not state-sponsored thugs who rigorously searched for every possible way to nail you with something. Seriously... what kind of psychotic assholes thought it would be a great idea to train cops to request optional cooperation in a manner that sounds like a mandatory demand? What kind of world do people like this hope to live in?

    Even if I were the undisputed dictator for life, an autocrat with absolute power, a sovereign whose orders are always obeyed without question and without hestiation, a ruler without rival, the man in charge of everything ... I still would not want to live in a dictatorial police state. I still don't want to be surrounded by that kind of misery and disharmony. I especially wouldn't want to be even partially responsible for it. No affirmation of my ego would be enough to make it worthwhile.

    In some ways I can easily understand the minds and spirits of power-hungry people. In some ways I can easily grasp why the USA is becoming a police state. I see the forces at work driving both. They're the same type of perversion and corruption that has befallen every great nation. It's what possessed every bloodthirsty mass-murdering tyrant throughout history, and by that I refer to those who had motives other than self-defense. The history books usually refer to them as "conquerors" with a certain awe. As the saying goes, if you kill a man you're a murderer; kill many and you're a conqueror.

    But in other ways, I really don't understand it at all. I mostly want to be left alone to live my life as I see fit. Taking responsibility for my life, not allowing my decisions to harm others, and respecting the freedom of others to live as they see fit are the only obligations I truly recognize. Yet for those who view life as one gigantic struggle for control of others, it's just a matter of who's holding the reins. Each would like to be that person or a member of that group. Often, this is even portrayed as normal and is rarely questioned. As common as it is, as predictable as its machinations are, this mentality is completely alien to me. I know it only through outside observation. Am I in a small minority here? Am I really?

    If so, cops who find petty deception and intimidation useful, not so they can solve some heinous crime and bring a dangerous criminal to justice, but so they can brag to their buddies about how many additional charges they added to some poor schmuck who was a threat to no one ... well that's just the beginning. They think they're running the show because they can push civilians around? They're dogs on a leash to the truly powerful, obedient and loyal so long as their "appetites" are satisfied.

    What a shame. We could have a much more beautiful world than this.

  • Re:Whoa, whoa. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by plover ( 150551 ) * on Friday April 22, 2011 @07:41PM (#35911326) Homepage Journal

    It starts out as simple corruption. Like most jobs, cops are reviewed on how much output they produce. Yes, they may have found ticket quotas to be unconstitutional, but there is an understanding that if Officer Jones brings in 5 guys with 3 charges each, and Officer Smith brings in 5 guys with 1 charge each, guess who gets promoted to Lieutenant? Hint: it's Jones.

    And they're not stupid. They're trained on techniques that bring in more bad guys. If Officer Jones really wants that Lieutenant rank, he's going to use them. They also don't have to be reasonable, because they can always leave it up to the judge to determine reasonableness. As long as they follow the rules to the letter, if they want to try things like warrantless searches just to boost their own image in the eyes of their boss, they will.

    The thing is that many people don't view that as corruption. "He's a go-getter!" "He makes things happen!" Those are compliments. And if a cop uses a warrantless search and uncovers a guy who phoned a drug dealer, then uses that as probable cause to search for and find a joint in his car, politicians will celebrate a victory for the system -- never mind that the search was a fishing expedition launched for selfish corrupt reasons, and that they're prosecuting a guy for a victimless "crime". "He made things happen!" And if the dirt that led to the arrest is ever exposed, the politicians decry it as a "liberal judge legislating from the bench."

    It's a corrupt system, yet for the most part it's still better than all the alternatives history has demonstrated.

Logic is a pretty flower that smells bad.