Apple

Being tracked by your iPhone: Do you care?

Researchers point out a little known file on the iPhone that tracks and stores your exact movements, doesn't offer an opt-in, and doesn't encrypt the data. Does having your every move tracked by your iPhone spook you, or is it the new normal?

In a story I first saw on ReadWriteWeb.com, "Your iPhone Is Tracking Your Every Move," by Audrey Watters, I learned that researchers have found a little file called "consolidated.db" on the iPhone that collects rather detailed tracking information on your movements:

The file contains longitude and latitude data, recording the phone's coordinates, along with a timestamp. This recording process seems to have started with Apple's iOS 4 update, which means that there could be almost a year's worth of location data stored - literally hundreds of thousands of data points.

While many people willingly have their locations made known on devices for an array of applications and social networking purposes, there are factors that make the iPhone's data collection seem a little more ominous to some. First,  there is no "opt-in" choice presented to the user, and perhaps, most troubling, the data is stored unencrypted and unprotected, and you can't delete the file.

ZDNet's Larry Dignan followed up on this news with a list of reasons why he met the story with a "a yawn":

  • Why? People allow their every move to be tracked anyway-willingly.
  • I happen to have GPS set up on my Android device. I have no idea what Google is keeping on me. Cue up the "Dignan you idiot" talkbacks.
  • I also know that a friend happened to be at Grand Central Station this morning because he checked in on FourSquare and it was blasted to his Twitter feed.
  • Folks use Google Latitude.
  • MobileMe tracks you too.

Dignan acknowledges that there is the issue of the no opt-in, but suggests that it is something Apple fans would opt-in to anyway. If you want to track this story further, the researchers who found the file are presenting their findings today at the Where 2.0 Conference.

What do you think of this report? Is it a big deal or not? Have we grown so desensitized to the sense that privacy exists anymore that being tracked down to your last foot traveled is immaterial? If you own an iPhone, what steps will you take, if any? Fire away!

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Selena has been at TechRepublic since 2002. She is currently a Senior Editor with a background in technical writing, editing, and research. She edits Data Center, Linux and Open Source, Apple in the Enterprise, The Enterprise Cloud, Web Designer, and...

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