iPhones secretly track their users' locations

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amcluesent

Well-known Member
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gkpm

Novice Member
This is just an something that - as usual these days for anything related to Apple - has been completely overblown by the media.

More rational discussion in the blogs of other researchers:

https://alexlevinson.wordpress.com/...es-with-the-latest-iphone-tracking-discovery/

Consolidated.db : Final Thoughts – Cellular.Sherlock

In summary it's a nice visualisation tool, but the actual data recorded is very low resolution (only works to the level of mobile cells), includes points which the phone hasn't even been to (it's just a cache after all) and only stores each location once.

It's also difficult for anyone else to get this data unless they have access to the backup in your computer (and you don't choose to encrypt it) or if you jailbreak your phone and run nasty apps.

I tried it on mine (both tool and raw database access) and couldn't figure out the general area of where my house or work were, even with over 8 months of data.

It did show I'm usually around the general area of Newcastle but someone with access to the phone or backup would figure that one out very easily from eg the contacts list...

It also showed me I apparently had a few days in France, which I never did.. Maybe the phone knows something I don't :))
 

andy1249

Distinguished Member
Im in phoenix Arizona at the moment with work , and this story is huge here , many an iphone user is outraged at this, your average american seems to be appalled at this "violation of their rights".
 

gkpm

Novice Member
This is a cache file not unlike a browser cache which keeps web pages you saw around for future re-use. Are people now going to claim their Firefox cache files are a "violation of their rights" or there's somehow a conspiracy in place by Mozilla?

Disabling caching of cell tower locations means that phones will have to contact Apple every time they need to map from Mobile cell ID to a location. This makes lookups slower and would actually make Apple more aware of your movements.

This mapping is the only practical way of getting GPS services to work on phones at all, otherwise you'd have to wait a very long time to get a location fix in busy streets (car GPSs have the benefit of usually being on the road under an open sky) All smartphones do this.

I understand this is a complex issue for many to understand, but if people demand location services and are not prepared to wait 10 minutes or more for a location fix then their phone has to keep information on where they are.
 

gkpm

Novice Member
There's info here about how to block it if you've JB your phone.
That is not blocking much, just blocking the caching of information. It just means the phone will need to contact Apple more often to get the Cell towers mapped to GPS coordinates. So you're just wasting more battery and telling Apple a lot more frequently about where you are.

Personally I'd prefer a solution where you can delete the cache if you want, like a clear history button, but blocking it makes no sense.
 
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Some Bloke

Well-known Member
That is not blocking much, just blocking the caching of information. It just means the phone will need to contact Apple more often to get the Cell towers mapped to GPS coordinates. So you're just wasting more battery and telling Apple a lot more frequently about where you are.

Personally I'd prefer a solution where you can delete the cache if you want, like a clear history button, but blocking it makes no sense.
This this one instead.
Locationd Blocker: Blocks All Location Records Stored On Your iPhone / iPad [Jailbreak Required] | MacHackPC
"Once installed, Locationd Blocker will not only clean the past data, it will also block iPhone to record data going forward.
 

Osamede

Member
They have GPS in them, so it isn't a surprise really.
I have a GPS in my car too, but no suggestion that TomTom is secretly tracking me. This revelation here isnt a surprise, but mostly because it is Apple and they are a serial abuser in this arena.
 

gkpm

Novice Member
Osamede said:
I have a GPS in my car too, but no suggestion that TomTom is secretly tracking me. This revelation here isnt a surprise, but mostly because it is Apple and they are a serial abuser in this arena.
Thats a pretty strong accusation, can you give some background to your claim that Apple is a serial abuser in tracking it's users?
 

Osamede

Member
Thats a pretty strong accusation, can you give some background to your claim that Apple is a serial abuser in tracking it's users?
It's a serial abuser in collecting exploiting customer private data for financial gain. No surprise that the data is being collected, then. Usage would come cleared at some point, buried in a 100 page "disclosure" that users are supposed to "agree" to on their 3 inch Iphone screen.
 

gkpm

Novice Member
Osamede said:
It's a serial abuser in collecting exploiting customer private data for financial gain. No surprise that the data is being collected, then. Usage would come cleared at some point, buried in a 100 page "disclosure" that users are supposed to "agree" to on their 3 inch Iphone screen.
I repeat my question, could you please substantiate your arguments with actual proof?

Any past example of where Apple has abused customer private data for financial gain would be enough.
 

Gary D

Distinguished Member
Apple will sell the data to 3rd parties for data mining purposes. Google have based an entire company on that model.

From the T&C's you clicked through when you bought i4

We also collect non-personal information − data in a form that does not permit direct association with any specific individual. We may collect, use, transfer, and disclose non-personal information for any purpose.
We may collect information such as occupation, language, zip code, area code, unique device identifier, location, and the time zone where an Apple product is used so that we can better understand customer behavior and improve our products, services, and advertising.
To provide location-based services on Apple products, 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.
WP7 doesn't track you (unless you opt in, i think Googles is an opt in too) the only thing it stores is the GPS location for the "find my Phone" feature.
 

gkpm

Novice Member
Apple will sell the data to 3rd parties for data mining purposes. Google have based an entire company on that model.

WP7 doesn't track you (unless you opt in, i think Googles is an opt in too) the only thing it stores is the GPS location for the "find my Phone" feature.
Nowhere in that does it say Apple will sell your data to 3rd parties without your approval. There's an opt in for every app for example. You can also turn off location services altogether.

Google has a similar approach on this. If you wish to turn on location services you have to agree to the anonymised automated approximated tracking.

I'm not sure about WP7 but would think it's pretty similar. It's the only way these companies can operate an up to date mapping service without spending billions.
 

Matt_C

Distinguished Member
I just ran the application mentioned on the CNN page - and it's wrong. It's got me all around north and east London, and Essex, Suffolk as I'd expect (it's where I work and live) but it also has me in Southhamptop - I've never been there. And Liverpool and Manchester - never been there either. And Birmingham - been there once, about 10 years ago (no iPhones back then) And around south London and Kent - don't go there either.
 

akki007

Novice Member
What exactly are people having a problem with here? I don't get it. I always knew my iPhone tracked my location, how would location services work if it didn't?
 

Matt_C

Distinguished Member
^^ probably because the media has blown it out of proportion and claiming "Apple know your every move!" and that this information is somehow life threatening or dangerous in "the wrong hands"

I still want to know why it was a "frightening experience" when the guy from Gizmodo used the app to see the tracker marks. I just did it; I was more confused than frightened (still claim to have never been to Manchester or Liverpool!)
 

gkpm

Novice Member
The media having quite successfully split users into Apple and Google camps - like if we were some sort of football supporters - saw this as a good opportunity to spice up their page hits again.

Unfortunately it didn't quite work out as both platforms store this sort of information. Now we're just left with the public hysteria and maybe in the future even worse battery life in our devices in order to comply with rushed regulation over how cell phone mast location can be cached.
 

Gary D

Distinguished Member
What exactly are people having a problem with here? I don't get it. I always knew my iPhone tracked my location, how would location services work if it didn't?
Prior to I4 it did it differently. This method of caching is new to i4 (from what I've read)

Nowhere in that does it say Apple will sell your data to 3rd parties without your approval. There's an opt in for every app for example. You can also turn off location services altogether.

Google has a similar approach on this. If you wish to turn on location services you have to agree to the anonymised automated approximated tracking.

I'm not sure about WP7 but would think it's pretty similar. It's the only way these companies can operate an up to date mapping service without spending billions.
It doesn't say it will but it doesn't say it wont either. Everybody sells data, from the Electoral Roll to O2 selling my mobile number to 3rd Parties.

From Apple's T&C's
We may collect, use, transfer, and disclose non-personal information for any purpose.
Personally I don't care, I'm not bothered. I don't own an iPhone. I'm sure that Google make a mint out of data mining my data (along with millions of other users).

It also seems that this has been known about for sometime but its only the visualisation software that has bought the issue to life.

As for WP7

Gizmodo has asked the other major smartphone OS companies what their practice was. Like Windows Phone 7 Google has an opt-in system for location data collection, but the company refused to answer on the record whether this "anonymous" location data is logged persistently. While no file was found on the Android phones, Google of course would be pretty happy to store the reams of data on their servers and sell it to advertisers for the highest bid.

Asking Microsoft the same question about Windows Phone 7, the company confirmed the only locational data stored on your Windows Phone 7 device is your last known location, for use with the Find My Phone feature.
Unlike Apple, Microsoft does not track WP7 users


G
 

gkpm

Novice Member
Prior to I4 it did it differently. This method of caching is new to i4 (from what I've read)
You mean iOS 4. Yes, because Apple stopped using Google's and Skyhook's mapping service and moved to their own.

It doesn't say it will but it doesn't say it wont either. Everybody sells data, from the Electoral Roll to O2 selling my mobile number to 3rd Parties.
Actually they said they wouldn't in a detailed report to US Congress just last year.

It also seems that this has been known about for sometime but its only the visualisation software that has bought the issue to life.
It was well known, even published in a book, but given the highly inaccurate data and because it's not useful to follow anyone around, no one took it as a serious problem.

As for WP7 I think it might be Microsoft being a bit sneaky with words: "locational data" may be different from "cell phone tower data" which is what the files really are. Also Gizmodo already got the Android bit wrong, so it's not a reliable source.

Btw, before anyone accuses me of shilling for Apple maybe I should add that I'm doing a PhD in computer science, so I naturally tend to have a larger interest in these things.
 
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Osamede

Member
This distinction of selling data to 3rd party is a red herring. Apple sells phones to people at full price then collection their geo data and sells it as advertisement to 3rd parties. Can the phone user opt out of these ads or block them? No?

This is abuse of consumers, particularly those who have paid full price for the worlds most expensive smartphone, not to mention others who are issues the phone as a corporate phones.

Which is why the world's most media-horny computer company is suddenly silent. Quite disgraceful.
 

gkpm

Novice Member
Osamede! I'm glad you're back, I'm still waiting on those examples of Apple's serial behaviour on privacy violations you talked about yesterday. Have you found any yet?

So today you have a different conspiracy theory. Well, for starters you don't even see any ads on the iPhone if you don't use ad-supported apps, which are usually the free ones. I hardly have any, you don't need them to use the phone.

If you do use ad-supported apps, the ads you see may be selected according your general location (general location means the actual GPS coordinates are translated to a post code first).

However by Apple's own statement to US congress this is done within Apple only to choose relevant ads, the advertiser never gets any of this information: not the raw coordinates nor even the postcode.

So unless Apple is lying to Congress (a bit bad if it got out) then no they don't sell information to 3rd parties.

ps - I had to laugh at your "world's most expensive smartphone" comment. They're definitely not. Take your poison somewhere else.
 
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