Good to see that Apple has now released a software update (iOS 4.3.3) that means that iPhones will no longer retain information about where they have been!
As Apple, states:
“This update contains changes to the iOS crowd-sourced location database cache including:
- Reduces the size of the cache
- No longer backs the cache up to iTunes
- Deletes the cache entirely when Location Services is turned off”
In effect, this means that the amount of information kept on the ‘phone is limited to a week’s usage, and the location data are no longer backed up on users’ computers.
In response to criticisms over iPhone location data being stored on the ‘phones and backed up on users’ computers, Apple claimed that iPhones were not actually logging locations – “Rather, it’s maintaining a database of Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers around your current location, some of which may be located more than one hundred miles away from your iPhone, to help your iPhone rapidly and accurately calculate its location when requested. Calculating a phone’s location using just GPS satellite data can take up to several minutes. iPhone can reduce this time to just a few seconds by using Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data to quickly find GPS satellites, and even triangulate its location using just Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data when GPS is not available (such as indoors or in basements). These calculations are performed live on the iPhone using a crowd-sourced database of Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data that is generated by tens of millions of iPhones sending the geo-tagged locations of nearby Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers in an anonymous and encrypted form to Apple”.
Apple went on to say that the fact that up to a year’s data was stored was the result of a bug: “The reason the iPhone stores so much data is a bug we uncovered and plan to fix shortly (see Software Update section below). We don’t think the iPhone needs to store more than seven days of this data”. Further, their statement also emphasised that Apple believe that personal information security and privacy and important: “Yes, we strongly do. For example, iPhone was the first to ask users to give their permission for each and every app that wanted to use location. Apple will continue to be one of the leaders in strengthening personal information security and privacy”.
For further comment, see:
I wonder how many iPhone users are aware that their movements are automatically being logged in a small, easily accessible application on their ‘phones? Recent, important work by Alasdair Allen and Pete Warden has shown just how easy it would be for unscrupulous people to access this information. It also raises worrying questions about why Apple has done this, and why they have not clearly informed users that this information is so readily available?
Allen and Warden have written a neat Open Source application that enables users to visualise this information – down to a very high level of detail in space-time – called iPhoneTracker. Essentially, Apple stores this information on the ‘phone in terms of latitude, longitude and time stamp. The database of locations is stored on the iPhone, but is also on any backups that might have been made when synced with iTunes.
As Apple and Warden comment with respect to why Apple has done this, “It’s unclear. One guess might be that they have new features in mind that require a history of your location, but that’s pure speculation. The fact that it’s transferred across devices when you restore or migrate is evidence the data-gathering isn’t accidental.”
They also point to the very serious moral and ethical issues that this raises: “The most immediate problem is that this data is stored in an easily-readable form on your machine. Any other program you run or user with access to your machine can look through it. The more fundamental problem is that Apple are collecting this information at all. Cell-phone providers collect similar data almost inevitably as part of their operations, but it’s kept behind their firewall. It normally requires a court order to gain access to it, whereas this is available to anyone who can get their hands on your phone or computer. By passively logging your location without your permission, Apple have made it possible for anyone from a jealous spouse to a private investigator to get a detailed picture of your movements”.
The screen grab from their visualiser shows where I have been using my iPhone in recent months. Perhaps colleagues who have been sceptical about why I have various different ‘phones and different SIM cards will now understand the reason!
We should all be immensely grateful to Alasdair Allen and Pete Warden for bringing this to our attention!
See also Jacqui Cheng’s recent article on this.
How’s this for an interesting scam?
- My daughter’s iPhone (in fully functioning order) falls out of her pocket on the kitchen floor. The screen cracks (despite a rubber cover and a silicone protector on the front) and the ‘phone stops working
- I ‘phone up our insurance company, and they say “Take it in to an Apple shop and get them to write a report – if it says it is not reparable we will refund, but you will need to pay £50 excess and lose 33% of your no-claims bonus”
- So, my wife takes it in to an Apple shop in Cambridge, and they confirm in writing that it needs replacement – but they add that there is liquid inside the ‘phone.
- On reading our insurance policy I note that it says that ‘phones are not covered for liquid damage. However, the ‘phone had never been submerged in liquid and was working fine before the glass broke when it fell on the floor. The reason it had stopped working was nothing at all to do with liquid. But by writing that there was liquid in the iPhone, Apple invalidates our insurance!
- The Apple shop also notes that they will replace it for £139 since it is out of guarantee – which is VERY much less than a new replacement iPhone would cost (£449).
- So, if we pay Apple only £89 more than the £50 we would need to pay as excess charge to our insurance company, we can get a new iPhone, and not lose our no claims bonus. Theoretically we should be happy, and Apple would get the direct benefit of our payment as well as another sale!
- However, this is completely WRONG. The ‘phone had never been in contact with liquid (other perhaps than sweat) – possibly some moisture had come in subsequently as a result of the crack in the glass, but any presence of liquid was nothing to do with why the ‘phone was not working! We should be able to get a new ‘phone simply for the £50 excess on our insurance policy! But Apple invalidated our insurance claim by saying that there was liquid in it!
So, now the bright side of the story:
- My daughter then took the iPhone into the Apple shop in Southampton – and persuaded them to look at the ‘phone again
- Guess what? Yes, they found that the problem was nothing to do with liquid, but as we knew all along was a result of the cracked screen!
- So, they repaired it (for the magical £139) and we are now sending off their report to our insurance company for the claim!
Thanks Apple Southampton!!