iPhone records your location information, stores it on your PC

Security researchers, including Pete Warden have discovered that iPhone records location data, stores it in a file, and syncs it with iTunes. That means the data -- and the record of your location over time -- persists even when you upgrade or change iPhones. There's no evidence Apple transmits or receives a copy of this data or stores or uses it in any way beyond locally on your device and PC.

That Apple is doing this without disclosure is disconcerting, and as the researchers point out, it raises some security and privacy concerns:

"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."

The researchers have created an FAQ and app (see the link below) that visualizes the data for those interested in seeing what is stored. The process uses cell towers to record location, so it can be fairly inaccurate. When I tried it, it had me in several places I'd never been. That a would-be-location thief needs physical access to your device also mitigates my concern slightly, because anyone with physical access can get my contacts, business emails, messages, and all sorts of data that may or may not be even more worrisome than gross location data for the city in which I live.

Anyone here spooked?

[iPhoneTracker via The Guardian]

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, The TV Show, Vector, ZEN & TECH, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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There are 63 comments. Add yours.

Rowanova says:

I'm not really worried, but at the same time if this information is truely not being used, by anybody,(frowning) then why is it being collected/recorded in the first place?
In other words, who the heck is big brother here?!

Daryll says:

"Anyone here spooked?"
I could care less. I have my usual stalkers that always seem to find me regardless.

Alastair says:

"I could care less"
So you do care?

jdradvisors says:

OK love Apple but this I do not like at all...little scarry. It would be nice to have Apple say why this is being collected. I will not be holding my breath

Dood says:

"Anyone here spooked?"
No. I've always figured that since GSM was implemented that there was some sort of tracking or monitoring for each SIM out there. If anybody is actually interested in where I am, that's their loss. I don't do anything of value or go anywhere interesting...ever (as most of you who are posting on TiPb).
In the words of the great Will Smith, "Don't start nothing, won't be nothing". IE - Don't go anywhere that you wouldn't feel comfortable talking about in public.

mark419ny says:

i believe it was the lil john that said that and thats the edited version . its dont start no s..t wont be no s..t. the song is damn by the youngbloodz featuring lil jon. anyway the more technology you use the easier you are to track either get use to it or ditch your technology.

00stryder says:

I believe he was referring to Will's line in the first Men In Black movie, which predates "Damn!" by several years.
Oh, and I can't see why this would be necessary to add, at least without an option to turn it on. Maybe its intended use is to help businesses keep track of their employees while on the clock?

Dood says:

Stryder takes it. Mark has proven himself to be an uneducated weenie in the ways of the MiB.

influenceuk says:

dont care, the "dots" or data don't really seem to mean anything. Would be interesting to see how accurate this really is, but i am on a PC!
If anyone else has tried it out please share if its accurate. :) Cheers.

FLskydiver says:

From the FAQ:
"The most interesting data is the latitude, longitude location and the timestamp. The timestamp shows the time in seconds since January 1st 2001."
"To make it [their application which displays the recorded data points] less useful for snoops, the spatial and temporal accuracy of the data has been artificially reduced. You can only animate week-by-week even though the data is timed to the second, and if you zoom in you’ll see the points are constrained to a grid, so your exact location is not revealed. The underlying database has no such constraints, unfortunately."

firesign3000 says:

Nope. I wouldn't be surprised if Android and BB do the same thing.

stoneland says:

It's interesting that there isn't an option to disable it and that it was kind of "hidden" in the sense that it's not readily accessible. I read on the other site that sometimes the locations were not very accurate. I don't see why the iPhone has to record location information--I know phone companies already do this, but the fact that this particular feature isn't "shown" (for the lack of a better term) to the average iPhone user is kind of odd.

dc says:

"The price of freedom is eternal vigilence." - Thomas Jefferson
"First they came for the communists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me." - Martin Niemoller
The level of ignorance and apathy of some people astounds me, though certainly explains the state of affairs of the world today.

fastlane says:

I don't care that I'm apathetic.

fastlane says:

I'm not remorseful, either. I feel bad about that.

kbduvall says:

I've always been very enthusiastic about my apathy.

Chris says:

Everything we do on our phones can be tracked. Just don't be stupid enough to put yourself in a situation where that info would need to be gathered.

Jaime says:

Is this why battery sucks since iOS 4.3??!

AlinG says:

And this was just discovered...what if it records more than we're aware of?...that would be a problem.

Guacho says:

Rene, but it did show some places you have been before???... even if it's not 100% accurate I believe this is a serious issue.

jasondeno says:

Jack Bauer has been doing this with the help of AT&T/Verizon for years. And that info is doing more than sitting on your PC.

Thorndy says:

How do you go about viewing it? I would love to see where I have in in the last 3 years.

Thorndy says:

Where I have "been" in the last 3 years.

kbduvall says:

It really doesn't bother me at all. What I WOULD like to know, is WHERE that data is stored, and HOW I can delete it if I want to. Other than that, I think its kind of cool to be able to see where I've been. It helps me to figure out where I'm going.

James says:

Only someone who is doing something illegal should be worried

Busted says:

Can you be sure you aren't doing anything illegal?

Alastair says:

Then you won't mind the government installing CCTV cameras and phone taps in your house then.

SimpleAsItSeems says:

Why does privacy matter? Logically...

matt says:

Does the iphone store this data with no sim in and being turned off because on the 24/06/10 the day my phone the iphonetracker shows my area and london which is 115miles away and when i looked on google streetview the street in london's got a FedEx shipping agent there.

Carioca32 says:

I have Google Latitude on all the time anyway, sharing my position with friends and family. Not spooked at all by this.

omfgitsjustin says:

I think they use it to see things like: Where people use their phones to most so cell towers there need upgraded to more/less of them. Also where they can concentrate stock of products or ads on tv.
Am I worried? No. because when I am out in public, every stranger around me know where I am. Plus being on Youtube, I have had several people spot me in public and inform me that they saw my videos. So really I feel no concern at all. There are worse things.

Darwin says:

Android phones actually send the data to Google so they can use if for Maps Traffic analysis. Did that spook anyone??

Oletros says:

When send this data? Always or when you're using Google Navigator?

H3llbee says:

I'm outraged! Now excuse me, I have to go log into 4 square.

Liam says:

I Actually Think Its Quite Cool, If Its Not Been Used Then Why Should We Bother, Could Help With Miles On Cars Or Just Seeing Where You've Been!

fastlane says:

That's the longest song title I've ever seen.

Adam S. says:

Bahaha That Made Me Laugh

Tobias Funke says:

Anyone know how to access this data? I think it would be fascinating to see where my iPhone has been.

ny3ranger says:

Yeah there a link to download the app right at the bottom of the article. I just installed and ran it on my mac. Pretty cool.

Tobias Funke says:

Someone needs to create a "Where ya been" app for the Mac App store to access this info!

Glenn#IM says:

Give all sexual predators/offenders an iPhone. Let's track them.

ny3ranger says:

I actually like this app. Its pretty cool that I can see where I was. The only way for people to get this is to steal my computer. And if that happens a lot more then where I was would be my headache.

rich47 says:

Sorry for seeming so clueless, but I downloaded the program and can't figure out how to use it. I unzipped all the files but don't know what to do next. Thanks for helping.

FLskydiver says:

Appears Mac only. Do you have one?

Jimmy says:

I downloaded the app to see the data. But it says it can't find that file. I'm using a vzw 4.2.7 iPhone 4 with the latest version of Mac OS x. Is this only an AT&T thing? Or am I doing it wrong. I don't have the file on my computer in finder. I also couldn't find it with terminal or spotlight.

Batman78 says:

I noticed when I ran the app that it only went back to the last time I did a manual restore (not from a back up). I haven't tried but maybe a manual restore will delete the info.

Ryan says:

I downloaded it and it wouldnt work, I assume because my backups are encrypted?

Joe says:

How do I view these files? I'm interested in knowing where I've been.

Frank Girard says:

If you are not sensitive to this news you are totally a unconsious human being or selfish person or ignorant too let this happen. Letting apple or other company's gathering information about ANYthing you do SHOULD be illegal without some king of agreement from the user' end.
I bought an iphone4, its mine and whats in it too.
What the hell is happening here i did not agree to ANYTHING to let Apple get my personal information or even record this kind of information.
Police should be investigating about this. I have nothing to hide but i want to keep my privacy for me.

Frank Girard says:

Damn i still read this post and CANT beleive people dont worry about this. WAKE UP DAMN IT.

GLRobichaud says:

As far as I'm concern... I couldn't care less. I downloaded the APPS and check what was the info stored into the DB... It's way out of track... if I were to place a % on the tracking accuracy, I would say that it was right 60-65% of the times. There's some collected places that is at least 200~300km off to the nearest point I could have been... and that info is not even good enough to try to triangulate my position as some of them don't even make any sense.