At the recent Where 2.0 conference, Pete Warden and Alasdair Allain announced that iOS4 introduced tracking of iPhones and 3G iPads. A list of locations and timestamps is recorded into a file called consolidated.db on the devices. The file gets transferred onto any computer the device is synced with.
Natively, the data is unencrypted but Warden and Allain provide instructions on the steps that can be taken to encrypt it: “An immediate step you can take is to encrypt your backups through iTunes (click on your device within iTunes and then check “Encrypt iPhone Backup” under the “Options” area).”
Of course, telling the geospatial community that there is locational data out there immediately resulted in the mapping of it. Warden and Allain have an iPhone Tracker application that lets you map out your device’s locational data. Check out iPhone tracker maps on Flickr.
Will Clarke did an analysis comparing the location information stored on his iPhone with his actual bike route taken. What he found:
Almost all the points were way off. Here is a map that is generated from Google Earth; the red points are the ones pulled from my phone. The blue line is the route we actually took to get to Long Beach Island and the Orange Line is the route we used to leave.
The media attention about the location tracking has caught the attention of the FCC and members of Congress, Politico reported.
According to CNET, police have know about this tracking since last year. The article also notes that Apple isn’t the only company with a mobile device that has location tracking:
At least some phones running Google’s Android OS also store location information, Swedish programer Magnus Eriksson told CNET today. And research by another security analyst suggests that “virtually all Android devices” send some of those coordinates back to Google.
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The spatial tracking of iPhones had been previously described in iOS Forensic Analysis: for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch, published in December of 2010. Contributor Alex Levinson responds to the latest news in his post, 3 Major Issues with the Latest iPhone Tracking “Discovery”.
Blog posts about iPhone tracking from the geosphere: