iPhone, iPad tracking data easily accessible
BY SANDRA GUY Business Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org April 21, 2011 4:26PM
The iPhone and iPad collects data that shows when the user was at each location with a timestamp. The information is downloaded to the user’s computer each time the iPad or iPhone is synced. | AP
Updated: May 23, 2011 3:56AM
Users of the iPad and iPhone are being tracked in openly available detail and for long periods — by their mobile devices.
Though wireless phone companies collect cellphone locations in order to route calls to 911 emergency operators, such data are not accessible to the public. The iPad and iPhone data are easily accessible on the devices and on computers where they are backed up.
“This information is sitting in plain view, unprotected from the world,” write researchers Pete Warden and Alasdair Allan, who uncovered a file inside Apple’s operating software that collects the tracking information. “It’s on any machine you’ve synched with your device. It can also be easily accessed on the device itself if it falls into the wrong hands.”
The researchers released an app that helps iPad and iPhone users look at their data. The app is available at petewarden.github.com/iPhoneTracker.
The iPhone and iPad data show when the user was at each location with a timestamp. The information is downloaded to the user’s computer each time he syncs his iPad or iPhone. Apple collects and transmits the location information to itself, according to a Wall Street Journal report that quotes a letter that Apple sent last year to U.S. Reps. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Joe Barton, R-Texas.
Users can download the data and put their movements on an interactive map for all to see. The location information has been being gathered for about a year, ever since Apple’s iOS 4 operating system came out, the researchers say.
U.S. Sen. Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat known for his activism on Internet-privacy issues, has sent a letter to Apple CEO Steve Jobs asking why and how Apple is collecting the data, why the data aren’t encrypted and whether the data are shared.
Alex Levinson, a senior engineer at Katana Forensics, posted an article today saying that the tracking activity isn’t new and reminding iPhone and iPad users that they can turn off location services by using the “settings” menu on their device, which prevents applications from accessing the data.
Web users’ privacy has become a hot-button issue as more people use mobile devices and as advertisers increasingly buy access to their customers’ data. The controversy prompted the Federal Trade Commission on Dec. 1 to propose a “do not track” option that would let people surfing online choose whether they want their browsing history to be monitored. Software companies are starting to offer tools in their browsers that let users block certain third-party sites from tracking them.
Apple did not respond immediately to a request for comment. Apple reported on Wednesday that it sold 4.96 million iPads and 16.5 million iPhones in the latest fiscal quarter on profits of $5.99 billion, a 95-percent increase from the year-ago quarterly profit.