Your iPhone and iPad are tracking your every move — without your permission:
Security researchers have found that the iPhone and 3G iPad secretly tracks its users’ location without their permission, raising questions about Apple’s privacy safeguards and what it intends to do with the collected data.
The researchers, Pete Warden and Alasdair Allan, said yesterday that the tracking seems to have been in place since Apple’s iOS 4.0 update, released in June 2010. They presented their findings at Where 2.0, a technology conference in San Francisco.
The file containing the location data can be accessed by anyone who has an iPhone, 3G iPad or the computer to which it’s synced. A freely available, open-source application can be used to extract the data, which includes latitude and longitude coordinates and corresponding timestamps. The file remains on the iPhone or 3G iPad even if it is upgraded to a newer version, such as when moving from an iPhone 3GS to an iPhone 4. Users can encrypt iPhone backup data beforehand, which would prevent unauthorized access, but the file would still be present on the phone.
This means that as long as someone had access to an iPhone, 3G iPad or its synced computer, and the owner didn’t decide to encrypt his or her backup data beforehand, one could discover the iPhone owner’s exact movement patterns. The location data is thought to be generated via cell tower triangulation, in which three nearby cellphone towers are used to approximate the location of a mobile device. Such data could easily be used, for example, by private investigators or anyone else with a keen interest in knowing where and when a person has been.