Today, at Where 2.0 in San Jose, Pete Warden and Alasdair Allan will announce that they have discovered iPhones and iPads with 3G are tracking our location at nearly every moment of the day since the release of iOS 4 last year. The location data is possibly retrieved from triangulation of cell phone towers (using Skyhook Wireless’ technology) or is polling the GPS’ location information from time to time. The truth is, mobile phone carriers have always had this data even when cell phones were used for calls and had limited data capabilities. It was always understood that this data was private but, according to the folks at O’Reilly, this data is stored on your device and and in your iTunes folder on the computer that you use to sync. Also, the file, “consolidated.db” is unencrypted and easy to copy if your computer’s security is compromised.
Alasdair on what is stored in this file:
This contains latitude-longitude coordinates along with a timestamp. The coordinates aren’t always exact, but they are pretty detailed. There can be tens of thousands of data points in this file, and it appears the collection started with iOS 4, so there’s typically around a year’s worth of information at this point. 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.
The easiest way to secure this file is to set your iTunes backups to encrypted which can be configured within iTunes. You can set this up with info detailed in this Apple Knowledge Base article. On Apple’s reasoning, Alasdair adds, “We’re not sure why Apple is gathering this data, but it’s clearly intentional, as the database is being restored across backups, and even device migrations.”
iPhone & iPad users can review what their devices have been storing using a piece of software developed by Pete Warden and published to the web here.
You can see more details in this video published today by O’Reilly to YouTube: