Friday, April 22, 2011

iPhone Calls Home

Limbaugh mentioned that the iPhone has an 'always-on' location system which retains the phone's locations (lat/long) and then dumps them to your computer when the devices are synched.

At the time it came up, (Drudge also carried the story), the Official Line was that 'nobody used the data' and that 'nobody, but nobody,' could import the data from individual phones.

Oh, really?

...iPhone and Google Inc. (GOOG)’s Android smartphones transmit location data from the handsets back to the companies, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing documents seen by the newspaper.

Apple “intermittently” collects information about iPhone users’ whereabouts, transmitting the data back to itself every 12 hours, the Journal reported, citing a letter it said the company sent to U.S. lawmakers last year.

Google’s Android phones send location data to the company several times an hour as well as information about local Wi-Fi networks and a code identifying the particular handset, according to the report.

The first question: why did Apple 'send a letter to US lawmakers last year' about this feature?

The next question: who else can obtain and utilize the information?

Good news: if your phone is stolen, it can be found. If you're in an accident and disabled, you can be found. If you let your kid use the phone, he/she can be found (or tracked.)

Bad news: Other folks, some not your friends, can find you, too.


Anonymous said...

very old cell phones don't have the GPS feature and can be reactivated......and you can not be found very easily with no GPS

Anonymous said...

You can always buy a GPS Jammer ...... Here read this article at fox news.....

GPS Jammers Illegal, Dangerous, and Very Easy to Buy

Tim Morrissey said...

This "shocking" news aside...and it is disgusting news...ever notice how many young folks give up their location willingly with iPhones by "checking in" wherever they are?

Their concept of privacy is far different that "old" folks over 35....

Jeff Miller said...

Actually it is looking more like a bug where the database was suppose to be a cache of location data that didn't get flushed correctly and will likely be fixed in the next iOS update. Mainstream technology reporting is just as bad as there other reporting.

Plus as far as protecting the data including this file from anybody who might steal your phone, you only need to turn encryption on and it is currently not hackable if you used a good password. Of course the other thing is that it is really cellphone tower information and not actually your accurate location.

Contrary to the terrible Bloomberg article, this database is not transmitted anywhere and is only accessible if you have physical access to the phone and jailbreak it.

Android has the same database file, but it correctly flushes it periodically.

What the news articles are conflating is this news story with advertisement gathering data which can be opted out of.

Jeff Miller said...

For an intelligent article on the subject see this post from someone who does iOS forensics.

John Foust said...

You must be anti-business. It was all in the fine print in that click-through contract you signed. So what if the cops can pull you over on suspicion, snarf the data from your phone? If you're not guilty, you have nothing to worry about.

Dad29 said...

Jeff, the WSJ's article (same topic) of today is a bit more damning.

Contradicts the Levinson article.

Would WSJ have a REASON to slam both Apple and google?

Jeff Miller said...

Wouldn't know a reason other than headlines sell - which is often enough. Mainly just bad tech reporting.

I subscribe to a lot of tech blogs and none of them are making the claims WSJ and others are making. Even the privacy people who freak about everything think this is overblown which seems to be the general opinion on this. The original researchers who discovered this aren't making those claims either.

Anonymous said...

Dad29--So now you're complaining about an invasion of privacy if a business is able to extract information from us unwillingly or unwittingly?

Ok, fine, where in the Constitution does it state that citizens have an expectation of privacy from this activity?

mobiledevelopment said...

Well thats kinda creepy having someone tracking you. I guess whats the point of having an option in your phone saying “May I use location services?” just simply click no and turnoff Location services to make the matter crystal clear. Lastly please do use your phone wisely.