Where have you been? Your iPhone and iPad know
April 20, 2011 Lesley Ciarula Taylor
Software on the iPhone 4 automatically keeps track of where the phone has been, and when.
Your iPhone 4 or your iPad 3G are recording all of your movements and storing the information in easy-to-access files, two British scientists revealed on Wednesday.
Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden stumbled upon the unencrypted data buried inside their iPhones while working on another project.
They presented their findings ](http://radar.oreilly.com/2011/04/apple-location-tracking.html)at a conference in Santa Clara, Calif.
“All iPhones appear to log your location to a file called ‘consolidated.db,” Allan said in a YouTube video he and Warden made about the discovery. “This contains latitude and longitude coordinated along with a time-stamp. The coordinates aren’t always exact, but they are pretty detailed.”
The tracker is embedded inside Apple Inc.’s newest iPhone software, iOS 4, and on iPads with a cellular plan. The data are stored in your devices and automatically backed up on your computer when you synchronize them with iTunes.
“Apple have made it possible for anyone from a jealous spouse to a private investigator to get a detailed picture of your movement,” Allan and Warden explained.
The good news, said Allan, is that it appears the detailed trail only exists on the owner’s devices and is not stored by Apple.
The bad news is that it would be easy to crack the code and recover all the data if an iPhone were lost or compromised.
“There’s no immediate harm that would seem to come from the availability of this data,” they said. “Nor is there evidence to suggest this data is leaving your custody.
“But why this data is stored and how Apple intends to use it, or not, are important questions.”
They’ve asked Apple to explain and Apple hasn’t answered.
Cellphone providers also record that information but keep it stored securely and accessible only by court order.
Warden has built an easily downloaded tracker so iPhone 4 owners who use an Apple computer can see their own smartphone’s trail. It’s available at www.tinyurl.com/phonedata. The website also spells out where to find the data if you don’t want to download Warden’s application.
The data only appear on iPhones and iPads, Allan said. He found no sign of a location tracker on smartphones that use Google’s Android software.
Allan, an astronomer at the University of Exeter, had just finished creating a map of radiation levels from the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan when his curiosity about mobile data got him “poking around in the backups on the Mac.”
Warden, a data-mapping specialist, started investigating with the idea of seeing what contact information was accessible on an iPhone.
“My first thought was that this was a cache showing a little bit of data,” said Warden.
What they found instead was 293 days worth of tracking — the “entire time” Allan been using an iPhone 4, through three separate devices.
His phone also recorded 220,000 data points where it had gathered information wirelessly, Allan said.
Because it tracks a person by triangulating from cellphone towers, it isn’t entirely accurate. Allan’s phone put him in South America, where he’s never been, but it did accurately trace him from Britain to the United States.
“We’re both big fans of Apple’s products and take no pleasure in uncovering this issue,” they said.