Two security researchers, Pete Warden and Alasdair Allan, have discovered that Apple iPhones track its location through longitude and latitude, including date and time, and record this information to a secret file. This file is copied to the user’s computer when the devices are synchronized.
Similar behavior has not been found on any other phone, including those running Google Android. Only the iPhone and 3G-enabled Apple devices like the iPad where found to do this. It was also observed that the file is copied to a new device when the old one is replaced but there is no evidence about it being sent to Apple.
You can read about the researcher’s account of the discovery at O’Reilly’s Radar site. They also have a FAQ and a downloadable utility to enable users’ to check what location data is kept in their phones.
While it is known that mobile network operators do have records about their subscribers’ locations, this data is collected from their end and not by the users’ phones. This information maybe made available to law enforcement but only through a court order. The iPhone, however, can make it available to anyone.
This raises privacy concerns since one’s location can be considered personal and even sensitive. Further, users are not being informed about the data collection nor are given any control or option.
Voicing his concern, Privacy International’s director, Simon Davis, said that it’s “a worrying discovery” and that Apple is not taking its users’ privacy seriously as indicated by the presence of the file.
Apple’s terms and conditions for iTunes do include statements regarding location-based services. It states that: “Apple and our partners and licensees may collect, use, and share precise location data, including the real-time geographic location of your Apple computer or device. This location data is collected anonymously in a form that does not personally identify you and is used by Apple and our partners and licensees to provide and improve location-based products and services. For example, we may share geographic location with application providers when you opt in to their location services.”
Apple declined to comment on why it is recording user’s locations or whether the function can be deactivated.
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