Location Services Isn’t the Only Way that Apple Tracks Your iPhone

If you’ve been keeping up with the latest iPhone news, you’ve most likely heard about the infamous location database. At first, everyone thought that Apple was stalking your every move through a saved database of your GPS coordinates, but then some experts weighed in and said that simply wasn’t the case.

The iPhone’s GPS is operated through a system called Location Services. There was reason to believe that turning off Location Services would disable Apple’s location database form storing your information, but that turns out to not be true.

Apple is going to collect your location data whether you like it or not, and your location gets sent to Apple at least twice a day…

The Wall Street Journal conducted an experiment with the iPhone’s Location Services to see when the iPhone collects and stores location information.

“Apple Inc.’s iPhone is collecting and storing location information even when location services are turned off, according to a test conducted by The Wall Street Journal.

The location data appear to be collected using cellphone towers and Wi-Fi access points near a user’s phone and don’t appear to be transmitted back to Apple. Apple didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Still, the fact that the iPhone is collecting and storing location data—even when location services are turned off—is likely to renew questions about how well users are informed about the data being gathered by their cellphones. The fact that the iPhone stores months’ worth of location data was disclosed by two researchers last week.”

The iPhone still stores location data when Location Services is turned off. That seems a little shady. Apple is gathering your location data through Wi-Fi access points.

“The Journal tested the collection of data on an iPhone 4 that had been restored to factory settings and was running the latest version of iOS. They disabled location services (which are on by default) and immediately recorded the data that had initially been gathered by the phone. They then carried the phone to new locations and observed the data. Over the span of several hours as the phone was moved, it continued to collect location data from new places.”

Although The Journal does note that the coordinates gathered were not exact, this finding still raises questions about why Apple continually collects location data.

F-Secure reports that Apple collects user coordinates twice a day. They do this to aggregate their global location database of Wi-Fi networks. Apple uses these networks to get an estimate of your location without using the iPhone’s GPS. Google collects their location database by driving Maps Street View cars throughout the world. Apple simply crowdsources its already-existing database of iPhone users.

When you first setup your iPhone, you actually agree to Apple’s location collection methods.

If you feel uneasy, you can install a jailbreak tweak that clears the iPhone’s location database file of unneeded location data. Another jailbreak tweak will automatically toggle Location Services for you as well.

What do you think about The Journal’s findings? This is all starting to feel like over-sensationalized news to me.