Tag Archives: iphone

Pic of output from iPhone Tracker app.

Own an iPhone or iPad? It’s been tracking everywhere you go for the past year.

Pic of output from iPhone Tracker app.

A sample of the output. The bigger the dot the more times you've been recorded as being there.

Here’s something you probably didn’t know about your iPhone/iPad: It appears to be keeping a record of everyplace you’ve ever been both the device itself and on your computer if you use iTunes to back up your phone. The folks over at AresTechnica.com have the details:

Researchers Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden revealed their findings on Wednesday ahead of their presentation at the Where 2.0 conference taking place in San Francisco. The two discovered that the iPhone or 3G iPad—anything with 3G data access, so no iPod touch—are logging location data to a file called consolidated.db with latitude and longitude coodinates and a timestamp. The data collection appears to be associated with the launch of iOS 4 last June, meaning that many users (us at Ars included) have nearly a year’s worth of stalking data collected.

In order to drive the point home, the two developed an open source application called iPhone Tracker that lets anyone with access to your computer see where you’ve been.

Now some of you might be thinking this isn’t anything new as these products have long had GPS features that will tell you where you are and they often notify you that they’re doing so when you use them. Yeah, but this is slightly different. This tracking isn’t being done using the GPS, but by triangulating your position relative to cell phone towers:

Users don’t get to decide whether their locations are tracked via cell towers or not—unlike GPS, there is no setting that lets users turn it off, there’s no explicit consent every time it happens, and there’s no way to block the logging. (Nitpickers will point out that you do give your consent to iTunes when you download and install iOS 4, but this is not treated the same way as the consent given to the iPhone every time an app wants to use GPS.) So, whether or not you’re using GPS, if you’re using your iPhone as a cell phone, you are being tracked and logged constantly without your knowledge.

The only way to avoid this tracking is to turn off the cellphone part of the device. Now the problem here isn’t so much that your devices are tracking your every move, but that you’re not being told about it. The good news is that, as near as the researchers can determine, this data is not being sent back to Apple or any other third party. The bad news is that it’s not at all difficult to get access to which means that if you lose your phone or your computer is compromised then anyone with the iPhone Tracker app can call up everywhere you’ve ever been with it. You can bet your ass that law enforcement absolutely loves this “feature” so if you’ve ever been anywhere you don’t want someone to know about, well, hope you didn’t have an iPhone with you.

Of course, this only really matters if you give a shit about people knowing your comings and goings. Something which more and more people seem to have stopped worrying about. In fact, the folks at Gawker are reporting that this discovery has spawned a hot new trend:

When it comes to technology today, there is barely any distance between outrageous privacy violation and cool new feature. When news broke yesterday that Apple has been secretly spying on iPhone users, many people immediately broadcasted the illicit data to everyone.

[...] Holy crap, Apple has been secretly logging our every move for months? Let’s… broadcast it to everyone on the internet! Many techies are now showing off their iSpy maps: “I find myself fascinated staring at this automatically generated record of where I’ve been,” wrote tech blogger Alexis Madrigal. Tumblr and Twitter arefull of them. “I don’t get out of West LA enough,” user aboycommemoi observed.

For its part, Apple hasn’t said shit about this discovery, but there is some indication that this may not have been an intentional breach of user trust. More likely it’s a bug or an oversight in the program. The folks at Gizmodo explain:

As Gruber’s been informed, consolidated.db—the tin-foil-hat-inducing log in question—is a cache for location data. (As Pete Warden and Alasdair Allan’s FAQ about their project implies.) What’s supposed to happen with the cache is that the “historical data should be getting culled but isn’t”—because of said bug or oversight. In Gruber’s words:

I.e. someone wrote the code to cache location data but never wrote code to cull non-recent entries from the cache, so that a database that’s meant to serve as a cache of your recent location data is instead a persistent log of your location history. I’d wager this gets fixed in the next iOS update.

So how freaked out should you be? If you don’t own an iPhone or iPad then this isn’t really an issue for you. If you do then it depends on how much you give a shit if someone could potentially get hold of that data. The chances that you’ll be hacked and have it stolen for some nefarious, but unknown purpose is probably minimal. However that data is something that could potentially be used against you by law enforcement if they should happen to have reason to acquire it.

Given the recent hoopla here in Michigan where the State Police have been accused of extracting data from cell phones during routine traffic stops, that may be something to consider. (Note, the MSP put out a response to the ACLU’s assertions saying that they do not collect cell phone data during routine traffic stops and only do so with a court issued warrant.) And while you may say that you’ve nothing to hide from the police, it’s not like there aren’t cases where circumstantial and coincidental evidence got an innocent person convicted.

Just the same, forewarned is forearmed and it’s better to know what is being collected about you — intentionally or not — than not know.

The honeymoon is over for Apple iPhone owners.

The folks over at Gizmodo aren’t happy with the latest firmware update for the Apple iPhone. It seems Apple has followed through on their threat to render any iPhone that had been unlocked so it could work with a carrier other than AT&T into a $400 paperweight and, just to add icing to the cake, they also stripped out any unofficial third-party applications. This has caused the folks at Gizmodo to change their recommendation to Don’t Buy:

I get that Apple might not have wanted to wage a long back-and-forth war with hackers, as the PSP developers are. And this kind of big blow is going to be a devastating and effective scare tactic, even if a fix comes a few days later. Unlike a Sony PSP, people can’t go a few days without their phones, without social or work hiccups. This is why I never unlocked my main iPhone, only testing these hacks on a spare 4GB test dummy. But I don’t want to be held hostage like this. Did I buy these phones or am I just renting them?

Screw the unlock for a second. Let’s talk about the those third-party apps. While my 4GB iPhone is a brick, and the 8GB phone, which I kept on a totally legit AT&T contract, is now stripped down. Programs like the faux-GPS, IM clients, Flickr Upload, and NES emulator—what did they ever do but make the iPhone far better than the stock original? They made it far more competitive with open-platform superphones like the Nokia N95, to which I will now be switching. I flew back from NY to SF today. While there, I would have liked to have pushed my photos from the trip to flickr; I would have liked to have played NES games on the subway. I would have liked to have used the Navizon GPS thing to figure out where the hell I was at any given moment, and when I used one of those web 2.0 IM clients, my battery took a huge hit, and I missed a lot of messages because Safari couldn’t tell me I was getting IMs while out of the browser. Very annoying.

I look at my iPhone with version 1.1.1 software on it compared to the old hacked one. I’m happy for the iTunes Store, which we’ve been waiting for. But it’s not more important than fixing things, and adding capabilities such as copy/paste and email search. And it’s certainly not better than all those programs I can’t use anymore.

This is why I didn’t buy Steve Job’s open letter he put out awhile back where he claimed he was all for releasing music without DRM on it. Steve Jobs and Apple are the ultimate control freaks and they stand to gain far too much to allow you the freedom to choose which carrier you use your iPhone on and which third-party apps you can install on it. For crying out loud, they want to charge you a second time just to turn a song you’ve already bought into a friggin’ iPhone ringtone! That’s 99¢ to buy the song and then another 99¢ to make it into a ringtone. And, no, you can’t use MP3s or songs you’ve ripped from a CD to make ringtones. You either do it Apple’s way, at a $1.98 a shot, or you don’t do it at all. They haven’t started releasing software apps for the iPhone yet so there’s no way of knowing how much they’re going to charge for those, but you can bet your ass they won’t be free.

Apple has always been great at making easy to use and stylish products, but they totally suck at allowing you to use those products in any way they haven’t officially approved of. Not if they can make a buck by preventing you from doing so. So if you’re one of those folks who unlocked their iPhone and loaded it up with third party apps then you may want to think twice before installing the latest firmware upgrade. And to think you spent $400 to have a phone that tells you how it will allow itself to be used.

Got an iPhone and a MovableType/TypePad blog? You’re gonna be happy.

The folks at SixApart have released a couple of new plugins, one for TypePad and one for MovableType, that allow you to blog from your iPhone and iPod touch:

Today we are happy to announce Movable Type for the iPhone and iPod Touch, made possible through a plugin developed by Brad Choate that makes use of the design developed by Walt Dickinson for TypePad. The plugin works by installing an alternate template set that is automatically used in place of the primary Movable Type user interface when the application is accessed via an iPhone or iPod Touch. The integration with Movable Type is totally seamless.

Not sure if this is any easier than blogging from any other mobile device, but it does give you one more thing you can use to try and justify the cost of an iPhone.