That pocket supercomputer of yours is such a snitch.

iPhone keeps record of everywhere you go

Security researchers have discovered that Apple's iPhone keeps track of where you go – and saves every detail of it to a secret file on the device which is then copied to the owner's computer when the two are synchronised.

The file contains the latitude and longitude of the phone's recorded coordinates along with a timestamp, meaning that anyone who stole the phone or the computer could discover details about the owner's movements using a simple program.

For some phones, there could be almost a year's worth of data stored, as the recording of data seems to have started with Apple's iOS 4 update to the phone's operating system, released in June 2010.

Here's the app to plot the data on your phone on a map. Yup, it's there!

AT&T saves all that data too, but at least that (theoretically) requires a subpoena. This just requires momentary access to the phone.

Relatedly, Michigan police clone your cell phone at traffic stops.

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11 Responses:

  1. Bob R Kenyon says:

    So you turned off location services, right?

    • jwz says:

      No, that would be inconvenient!

      It's not clear that that would prevent this data from being collected anyway. They didn't mention testing that, and the cell towers send the phone location info regardless.

      • Michael Dwyer says:

        To elaborate on that in a scary, visual way, someone in Germany got their own cell tracking records, which are presented on a web page here. In case it isn't obvious from the red pie-shapes on the map, this is location data based only on which of the (typically three) sectors on a particular tower could see the phone. I don't even think they include the distance, although I think that is also trivial for the tower to record as the phone's timing advance. Even so, there's still plenty of tracking information without the phone being in any collusion whatsoever.

  2. unholyguy says:

    It's a safe bet that telcoms track every cellphone serverside, probably maintain privileged feeds to various government agencies as well. Crappy of Apple to add to the problem though.

    • jwz says:

      Like I said, that at least requires a subpoena or telco collusion with the feds. This just requires any random person to get access to the phone itself.

      • unholyguy says:

        Or access to your PC actually, if it's synced. PC is scarier then cellphone if you think about it

      • tom jones says:

        it doesn't actually require a subpoena.

        cell tower triangulation (location) data is considered "metadata", and that is turned over to authorities with just a formal request (like information about who you called, how often, for how long, etc). only the "content" of your call requires court approval.

  3. Paul Ward says:

    If you encrypt your iPhone backup, iPhoneTracker can't read your database. Also, if you encrypt and lock your phone (3GS or 4), the data is similarly unavailable without your permission. Even with the 4-digit passcode, the phone will nuke itself after 10 failed attempts, so this isn't that big a deal, especially considering that every cell carrier will gladly hand that data over to anyone who even remotely looks like a cop, with or without a warrant.

  4. spoonyfork says:

    If the times it takes for iTunes to sync with my iPhone is any any indication, this would make for some very long traffic stops.