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Is Your iPhone Watching You?

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Privacy fears have been raised by the revelation that iPhone users are being secretly tracked with their movements stored in a hidden file.

Researchers have discovered a secret file, hidden within iOS, which keeps a record of all your movements without your knowledge and even goes so far as to copy the files to your computer when the devices are synced. The file stores the longitude and latitude of the phone’s recorded coordinates along with a timestamp so you know exactly when the user was in a particular location. The researchers, Pete Warden and Alasdair Allan, revealed their findings at the Where 2.0 conference in San Francisco. The recording of this data seems to have begun with the update to iOS 4.0 which took place in June 2010.

"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," said Warden. A simple program, which the researchers have developed, allows anyone who gets access to the file to retrace the movements of the iPhone user. Considering the file is transferred to computers without the users' knowledge means anyone with access to that computer could conceivably access the location file.

The researchers have also looked at the other operating systems to see if something similar is happening but they have found nothing: “"Alasdair has looked for similar tracking code in Android phones and couldn't find any," said Warden. "We haven't come across any instances of other phone manufacturers doing this." The issue is also not an accident as the researchers have discovered that even if you switch handsets or iPads, the file is transferred with you. The researchers believe this means that Apple is planning new applications using this information. "Apple might have new features in mind that require a history of your location, but that's our speculation. The fact that [the file] is transferred across when you migrate is evidence that the data-gathering isn't accidental."

 

While it is believed that the data is not transmitted automatically to Apple, a paragraph at the end of the terms and conditions for iTunes seems to suggest that Apple has the permission to collect this information:

“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. For example, we may share geographic location with application providers when you opt in to their location services."

Whatever the reason for the data being collated, the one thing that seems certain is that iPhone users are completely unaware of this taking place. It is something that Apple needs to address and quickly, if it doesn’t want to lose the faith of its customers following what appears to be a serious violation of customers’ privacy.

Source: iPhone Tracker and O’Reilly Radar

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