Security researchers have discovered that the iPhone 4 tracks users’ movements and saves the details of their whereabouts at regular intervals in a file on their phone, a report in The Guardian (opens in new tab) has revealed.
The location data is stored in a “secret file” that can be decrypted to obtain details about the owner’s previous movements, which is later copied to the any computer synchronised with the iOS device.
"Apple has made it possible for almost anybody – a jealous spouse, a private detective – with access to your phone or computer to get detailed information about where you've been," Pete Warden, one of the researchers that collaborated on the report (opens in new tab), said.
Pete Warden and Alasdair Allan are the data scientists who discovered the file. This could turn out to be very uncomfortable for Apple, as the two Brits are sharing their findings at the Where 2.0 conference in San Francisco, and have also set up a website (opens in new tab) exposing the matter.
Allan claims that he did look for a similar file in Android-powered phones and didn’t find any. "We haven't come across any instances of other phone manufacturers doing this," he said.
Simon Davies, director of the pressure group Privacy International, also joined the discussion saying, "This is a worrying discovery. Location is one of the most sensitive elements in anyone's life – just think where people go in the evening. The existence of that data creates a real threat to privacy. The absence of notice to users or any control option can only stem from ignorance about privacy at the design stage."
The real problem lies behind the fact that users have never been informed about this and they haven’t been given the option to agree or disagree, although Apple could claim legitmacy from the 15,200 word terms and conditions (opens in new tab) for the itunes store, which states:
"Apple and our partners and licensees may collect, use, and share precise location data, including the real-time geographic location of your Apple computer or device. This 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."
If you’re curious to see what location data your iPhone is retaining, visit the webpage (opens in new tab) that Warden and Allan have set up and download their application.