Your iPhone Secretly Records Your Location Data

By , Apr 20, 2011

Most of you are probably aware that the iPhone can track your location. We’ve all seen the box pop up that says “Facebook would like to use your location data,” and then you tap Allow or Cancel.

But how many of you knew that the iPhone constantly tracks your location and records your coordinates alongside a time stamp to a secret file? I assumed that police might have access to that kind of info through my wireless carrier, but I didn’t know it was sitting in a file on my phone…

The Guardian is reporting today that scientists have discovered a disturbing file within iDevices using iOS 4.0 and up. Pete Warden and Alasdair Allan are presenting their findings at the Where 2.0 conference in San Francisco today, and it will certainly be interesting to see how the industry responds.

The research group has worked on several location data visualization projects like the map of radiation levels in Japan. They’ve even researched other smartphones, including Google’s Android devices, for similar invasions of privacy. No other mobile OS that they’ve come across, logs a user’s location data like iOS.

Warden and Allen note that the file is moved onto new devices when an old one is replaced, and don’t believe that to be by accident. They speculate that Apple might have new features on the way that utilize the hidden data, but the absence of a notice to users or a setting to disable the tracking shows a real ignorance about privacy.

Not only could it be considered ignorance, it might be against the law. The Regulation of Investigatory Power Act says that standard consumer phones cannot record location data.

Want to see the hidden data for yourself? Head on over to Pete Warden’s GitHub page here. At the top you’ll notice a place to download the application called iPhone Tracker.

It’s just a simple app that pulls the location data out of your saved iPhone files and displays the coordinates on a map. For those interested, Warden answers a full list of FAQ and breaks down how to locate the secret file yourself through file browsing.

Why is this such a bad thing? Obviously it’s not a good thing that jealous spouses and other inquiring minds have such easy access to a history of your recent travels, but the question of why this information is being recorded still remains.

I’m indifferent I guess because I rarely restore from old backups, and jailbreak frequently. When I tried the iPhone tracker, there was only location data from the last week or two.  But I certainly see that there is an issue here, especially after all that trouble Google got in over its Latitude services.

What do you think?

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  • Burge

    It wouldn’t be to bad if there was a settIng to turn it off , at least you would know it was there and what its doing… This on the other hand is way out of line .. Anyone fancy suing Apple about invation of privacy …

  • ddr

    What’s wrong with location? And what’s wrong with spouses knowing if they’re being cheated on? :P

  • MIke

    well if your wife would allow you to have a GF then it would not be an issue.. hahha then it would not be cheating

  • MIke

    The tracking dont bother me,, I know where i go and what i am up to,,dont hide anything.. everything is on the net anyways

    • moimoimoimoi

      you’re a fool .. the point isnt about what you are doing that you consider right or wrong, its about what ‘the man’ may figure is right and wrong today or in the future

      I feel the problem with many people today who don’t -think- is that they can’t or won’t envision the future as being set right now — its the precedence that’s being set here and as long as you suck and swallow, the never-ending march towards something bad things WILL occur

  • Topsy

    Thank goodness, I use fake locator. And is fantastic. Even google thinks at times I’m in America. Hahaha. He who laugh last laugh best so they say.

    • james

      It doesn’t use your GPS it triangulates your position through phone towers so even though you’re faking it this thing still tracks your real position.

  • http://bayour.com Turbo Fredriksson

    Apparently, this is in the EULA, point 4b. So even though I don’t like it, I have a hard time being angry about Apple doing it…

    http://images.apple.com/legal/sla/docs/iphone4.pdf

    • Matt

      No that’s referring to apps that openly use your location, not secretly logging it

      • http://bayour.com Turbo Fredriksson

        It does not say either way. It say ‘Apple and its partners and licensees may transmit, collect, maintain, process and use your location data’. In other words, it (Apple) does it (collect – i.e. logging it) any way it wants – openly or secretly…

  • Roy

    I hope a jailbreak app would tackle this soon. Let me guess, it’ll be called “localete”!

  • Manuel

    Couldnt you fake it with udid?

  • Mike

    An app is released. It’s called trackerd.

  • JoBerlin

    Have a look for untrackered in Cydia’s BigBoss repository. It’s a daemon that cleans the location database.

  • pissed off

    For the last year or so Apple has been selling us defective iPhones (antenna issues) and nothing happened, Apple has been selling us locked iPhones in the USA and nothing happened and now this. How corrupt is our government? Is there anyone in the government going to stand up and say enough of your (Apple’s) monopoly and privacy invasion? But in reality our government needs companies like Apple to track every move we make. Now days you can’t even buy a toilet paper without being asked for your phone number or email address so they can “inform” you of future discounts (right). Apple needs to be sued for every penny they made since this iOS tracking file was places on our iOS devices.

    I can bet you that former Eastern German KGB agents are kicking themselves right know knowing how much easier their jobs could have been had they had Apple on their side back then.

    This is BULL.

  • http://www.iphoneglance.com iphoneglance

    There is now a tweak in cydia that cleans up the file where the data is saved. Untrackerd is the solution for this check it out.

  • Peter Jansen

    Alas there are no directions for windows users to find this file through file browsing

  • TPFolair

    mass hysteria. please read…http://bit.ly/hW23z2

  • TerryM

    My location isn’t being recorded. What is, is the location of my iPhone is. Maybe when I want to take a break from work I should send my iPhone to another plant with our innerplant transfers, let someone drive around with it, then return it in a few days. May do this with more than one location. Turn on Google Latitude to see where it’s at. Sounds like it could be a fun project.