iPhones Secretly Track Owners' Whereabouts

This is pretty disconcerting: Since June, 2010, your iPhone has been keeping track of everywhere you've been and storing it on your phone. Why? No one knows.

The data isn't transmitted, but stored in a program. So theoretically, without a court order, only Apple and someone in possession of your phone can access it.

This makes it even more important for courts to rule that police cannot access your cell phone data without a warrant. If you're arrested and police take your phone when you're booked, they have no business looking at your recent calls and texts, let alone accessing the stored file to find every place you've been and when.

While courts disagree on whether you have a reasonable expectation of privacy in your vehicle, surely they would agree, as did the Colorado Supreme Court, that a phone is different. Or would they? Who knows anymore -- which is why Apple needs to discontinue this. [More...]

On a related note, I've noticed that my iPhone "beeps" sometimes. It's not the same sound as when I get a text message, or check my e-mail. It's not my ringtone. But I'll be driving along or at home when the phone emits a distinctive sound. When I pick up the phone to check, there's no message, no recent calls, no voicemail. Also, the phone is on manual settings to "fetch" my e-mail, so it's not updating my email. Every time I hear the sound, I wonder if I'm being tracked. Could it be this new location tracker, emitting a sound when the phone comes into contact with a different cell phone tower? Maybe it's time to go back to turning the phone off except when we need to make a call or check our mail. The privacy intrusions seem to be growing exponentially.

< Wednesday Night News and Open Thread | The Irony Supertrain >
  • The Online Magazine with Liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news

  • Contribute To TalkLeft

  • Display: Sort:
    That is seriously creepy (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by sj on Thu Apr 21, 2011 at 01:17:03 AM EST
    And I've noticed the occasional random beeping as well.

    What to do...

    The news report I saw (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by nycstray on Thu Apr 21, 2011 at 01:21:26 AM EST
    said the iPads with the same OS track you also. Just a heads up. . .

    It's stored on more than your phone (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by Romberry on Thu Apr 21, 2011 at 02:08:49 AM EST
    iTunes makes a backup of the data and stores it on your Mac or PC. And it isn't just iPhones. iPads have the same, uh, feature, and the data is on any machine that has been synched with your iOS device. (See Apple Insider.)

    I know that a lot of folks still live in the mindset of the 90's (Microsoft is evil!), but its time to update that mindset for the second decade of the current millennium: Apple is evil in ways Microsoft never had the nerve to even think of, much less try.

    Oy (none / 0) (#4)
    by lentinel on Thu Apr 21, 2011 at 03:58:13 AM EST
    Maybe it's time to go back to turning the phone off except when we need to make a call or check our mail. The privacy intrusions seem to be growing exponentially.

    I have read that one should turn the thing off when not in use anyway. It emits radiation.

    I have also read that one should not sleep in a room with the phone left on.

    I don't know if these admonitions are true, but if these manufacturers care so little for our privacy it is not too far a stretch to think that they might care even less about our health and safety.

    One more reason, (none / 0) (#5)
    by scribe on Thu Apr 21, 2011 at 05:04:20 AM EST
    like people needed any, to not buy Apple.

    if data is being collected, then (none / 0) (#6)
    by observed on Thu Apr 21, 2011 at 08:53:56 AM EST
    someone is picking it up.
    Who is it---Apple, HSD, both?
    This kind of information would be very valuable to advertisers.

    It is for the advertisers and partners (none / 0) (#9)
    by ruffian on Thu Apr 21, 2011 at 09:56:29 AM EST
    Good story about it all here.

    Apple's privacy policy states that 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".

    The objection is that the location log is not really anonymous - someone with the right skills and tools could figure out who you are.

    I wonder if turning off the 'location services' setting stops the logging? You only really need it for the mapping services and other location based apps, and can turn it back on when you need it.


    Should have read the article closer (none / 0) (#10)
    by ruffian on Thu Apr 21, 2011 at 10:05:10 AM EST
    And even though it appears to rely on tower triangulation rather than GPS pinpointing (meaning you're not safe with location services switched off),

    If they were going to collect this, I wish they would make an app that let me view it myself and see my own location history. It's the least they could do.


    From your lips to the internet (5.00 / 1) (#26)
    by Farmboy on Thu Apr 21, 2011 at 11:45:20 AM EST
    Mac app to allow you to view the backup file here. Enjoy.

    This is not so unusual (none / 0) (#7)
    by vicndabx on Thu Apr 21, 2011 at 09:30:22 AM EST
    smartphones that use GPS service routinely track your whereabouts.  As do programs such as Poynt and OpenTable.

    Granted, my Windows Phone at least warns me it's going to do it.  :-)

    Of course it's unusual (none / 0) (#18)
    by sj on Thu Apr 21, 2011 at 11:10:54 AM EST
    Or at least I hope/believe it is.  Other smart phones do not store this information to create a history.  

    On other phones, location information is ephemeral -- it is only concerned with where you are right now.  It doesn't retain information about where you were this morning.   Or yesterday.  Or last week.  Or on New Year's Eve. Or after the company Christmas party, etc. etc.


    If you use a smartphone, your cell tower data (5.00 / 1) (#24)
    by Farmboy on Thu Apr 21, 2011 at 11:38:25 AM EST
    is tracked and stored. The differences being: 1) the name and location of the iOS file is now known to a wider audience, thanks to the media excitement. Give it a day or two, and the world will know the name and location of the same data on your android, blackberry, windows phone, etc.

    And B: it's Apple. They can't order Jimmy John's for lunch without it making the news. That's just their karma.


    I need to destress (5.00 / 2) (#27)
    by Militarytracy on Thu Apr 21, 2011 at 12:11:53 PM EST
    I'm off to my boyfriends house, right after I take the battery out of my cell phone.

    That's right, MT. Take the battery out. (5.00 / 2) (#28)
    by caseyOR on Thu Apr 21, 2011 at 04:11:50 PM EST
    Thanks to the great Ben Masel, I know that simply turning your cell phone off does not stop the tracking from cell tower to cell tower. Ben advised me to remove the battery if I do not want my travels tracked.

    IIRC, the iPhone is a sealed case, meaning the battery cannot be conveniently removed. There does not appear to be any way to stop your iPhone from tracking your movements.

    I read somewhere that the most difficult smartphone to track and decrypt is the Blackberry. Something about the RIM software. Still, to secure your location remove the battery.


    My solution is not battery removal, but (5.00 / 1) (#29)
    by DFLer on Thu Apr 21, 2011 at 08:36:14 PM EST
    cell phone removal. I keep a land line only. That way "they" already know where I am and from where I am calling, and I don't have to fret about it.

    Luckily, I am not a Lincoln Lawyer, which requires different solutions these days, heh Jeralyn?

    Are old style mobile phones still around?


    It Also Stamps... (none / 0) (#8)
    by ScottW714 on Thu Apr 21, 2011 at 09:47:46 AM EST
    ... photos with your geo-location and if those photos are posted to say Facebook, anyone with freeware can find out where the pic was taken.

    So don't post pics from your home, tell the world you are on vacation, then wonder why your place is empty when you get home.

    On the other hand, if you are accused of a crime you did not commit, your iPhone maybe your best eyewitness.

    Lots of the pricier digital cameras geo-stamp too (none / 0) (#11)
    by ruffian on Thu Apr 21, 2011 at 10:06:47 AM EST
    Not limited to your iPhone camera.

    Ugh. (none / 0) (#20)
    by nycstray on Thu Apr 21, 2011 at 11:14:12 AM EST
    For the beeping (none / 0) (#12)
    by ruffian on Thu Apr 21, 2011 at 10:31:13 AM EST
    It would be interesting to turn off notifications in the settings and see if it still does it. If so, it is probably some app notifying you of something.

    You are probably correct about the app (none / 0) (#13)
    by republicratitarian on Thu Apr 21, 2011 at 10:46:27 AM EST
    It's probably an app that is running in the background. Double click the home button and it shows you what applications are loaded and running in the background. You can press and hold any of the open applications icons and then it will give you the option to close the app out.

    Turn off the Locations Toggle (none / 0) (#17)
    by ScottW714 on Thu Apr 21, 2011 at 11:09:23 AM EST
    I had an iPhone and I can't remember if you can turn it off, but on my Droid, it's easily toggled.  In setting, there are two toggles for location, wireless networks and GPS.

    When the only program that I feel needs location, Maps, is opened it asks if I want to turn on the GPS location.

    Even my Tablet, which isn't 3G, will try to use the internet connect to determine location, which it does fairly well, even while traveling.  It can even tether off my phone to use it's GPS if need be.

    Luxury at a cost, but my decision, not some unknown entity.

    But any phone can be tracked, whether it's in use or not, the difference is that Apple is recording it.  With all phones, the tower is recording proximity, which depending on the circumstance, is probably just as invasive.


    you are probably right about the apps (none / 0) (#30)
    by Jeralyn on Fri Apr 22, 2011 at 12:09:36 AM EST
    I'm glad that's all it is.

    I do have the location toggled off.

    And I don't have the Facebook app on anything.


    This news isn't news to everybody, but it does (none / 0) (#14)
    by Farmboy on Thu Apr 21, 2011 at 10:52:23 AM EST
    appear to be news to the user base.

    The existence of this file has been publicly known, at least to folks who write apps for iOS, since iOS 4 came out. It's even documented in an iOS 4 book that was published last September.

    The purpose of the file is unclear, though. Apple doesn't collect the data; it just sits on your phone and computer. As stated elsewhere, to get access to this file you need physical access to your phone or computer. You can choose to encrypt the file on your computer backup however; it's an option in iTunes.

    And finally, permission for the collection of this location data is stated in the user agreement. I'm sure the lawyers on this site would agree that reading a contract before signing it is a good idea, but who really does read all the parts of software licenses? We just click the "agree" button and get on with life. ;-)

    Or...different solution (none / 0) (#15)
    by Militarytracy on Thu Apr 21, 2011 at 10:56:53 AM EST
    I just don't need an iPhone.

    It is just cellular tower location data, (none / 0) (#19)
    by Farmboy on Thu Apr 21, 2011 at 11:13:15 AM EST
    so the same file could be there in your android, blackberry, windows, or whatever brand phone.

    True, but much more difficult to get to (none / 0) (#22)
    by Militarytracy on Thu Apr 21, 2011 at 11:29:51 AM EST
    Likely requiring a warrant of some kind.

    I have some sort of new Palm I think (none / 0) (#23)
    by Militarytracy on Thu Apr 21, 2011 at 11:33:18 AM EST
    My husband has an android, and he has had that tracking app on and watching himself drive down the road giggling to himself.  Or he likes to sit in a restaurant with it on and then zoom in on the roof and see how close to his actual location in the restaurant it comes.  He's just weird like that.  He says that my phone will do the same thing but I'm not interested in being weird.

    I do the same sort of thing when I'm driving (5.00 / 1) (#25)
    by Farmboy on Thu Apr 21, 2011 at 11:42:23 AM EST
    I'll turn on the TomTom just to watch my progress down the road, without setting a route. I just like the little arrow keeping me company, I guess. My wife finds it humorous, especially when I break out in the chorus to "me and my arrow" by nilsson.

    Ewwww..some guy on CNN (none / 0) (#16)
    by Militarytracy on Thu Apr 21, 2011 at 11:04:21 AM EST
    says that this stuff can be easily gotten to if someone wants to.  He also said that it could be used in an ugly divorce.

    Yup (none / 0) (#21)
    by sj on Thu Apr 21, 2011 at 11:14:20 AM EST
    Can totally see that.

    Brief survey: software that extracts you location (none / 0) (#31)
    by Mr Natural on Sat Apr 23, 2011 at 03:12:56 AM EST
    info from iPhones, etc., sold primarily to your local prying pigs:


    Oops! "your" location. (none / 0) (#32)
    by Mr Natural on Sat Apr 23, 2011 at 03:13:58 AM EST