iPhones, location data, tinfoil hats, Oh My!

Update 2: Definite non-story here.

Update: Yeah I figured as much.

Wow.  I’m pretty shocked over the latest “privacy invasion” story involving Apple but it’s not shock about the so-called invasion of privacy but of the utter lack of reporting going on here.

Story, after story, after story is sharing the sordid details.  Apple keeps a file with location data on the phone!  This has been happening since June of last year!  What are they doing with the data?  Cheating men may be in trouble!

Article after article has photos proving the deceit thanks to our intrepid researchers who uncovered the deception!  For better effect time-lapse movies are even provided!  Woe to the person who loses their phone!  The criminal may jailbreak the phone and gain access to records that indicate the person is going back and forth to work!

Everyone seems to be upset that the file is so easily accessible.   But the truth is it isn’t even if its stored unencrypted on the file system.  At a bare minimum it would require:

  • stealing the phone and jailbreaking it
  • stealing the person’s Mac

So two things about those, well, two things.  The first assumes that the person stealing the iPhone would actually care about the data.  In my opinion that’s pretty unlikely.  A person snatching your iPhone is probably a lot more interested in selling it for cash instead of seeing the drudgery of your daily life.  The second assumes that the person doesn’t have their backup file encrypted.

The most annoying thing about any of these stories, including the original where the news was “broken” (no pun intended), is that nobody is mentioning whether or not this is happening with Location Services turned off.  Most normal people aren’t going to do that.  They want their photos tagged with GPS information.  They want to share their location on Facebook, Foursquare, whatever.   Given how many people like to reveal their intimate details on Facebook and note where they’ve been on Foursquare I don’t really understand the outrage here.

But dude!  It’s privacy man!  P-R-I-V-A-C-Y!  This is all being done without my knowledge!  Again, when someone proves this is still happening with location services turned *off* the story *might* have some more weight to it.  Even then there are many reasons why the phone might keep a database of this sort.  The data appears to be triangulated cell-tower information, not GPS coordinates.  The guys who found this file even say:

Our best guess is that the location is determined by cell-tower triangulation, and the timing of the recording is erratic, with a widely varying frequency of updates that may be triggered by traveling between cells or activity on the phone itself.

Every day I go to work AT&T is tracking my phone just to maintain a signal.  My iPass transponder notes where and when I go through toll booths on my way to and from work.  Cameras at intersections and at the toll booths take photos of me and my license plate. When I enter the building during the day the date and time is noted on my employer’s computer system.   If I buy something during the day while out and about the transaction is recorded which notes what time I made the purchase, how much it was, and what I bought.  The store probably records this information as well.   My former employer may have camera’s mounted in the entryway of the store monitoring foot traffic.

And people are worried about triangulated cell tower data in a file on the iPhone?  Get a grip folks. This stuff has already been explained.

%d bloggers like this: