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Want to Be Spied On? Luckily, There’s an iPhone App for That

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Posted on Apr 21, 2011
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A clip from Apple’s groundbreaking television commercial “1984.”

Privacy-conscious iPhone and iPad users beware: Big Brother is watching. The Los Angeles Times reports that Apple’s mobile devices are secretly keeping track of where users have been by logging and storing a detailed record of their geographic location in a hidden system file. According to the two security researchers who discovered the file, the data are easily accessible and can be used to build an incredibly precise portrait of a user’s movements over time, stretching back months and even years. They’ve even made an application that does just that (Mac users only).  —YL

Los Angeles Times:

The data are in an unprotected file embedded in the phone and tablet computer, the researchers said Wednesday, allowing hackers who pick up a lost iPhone or iPad access to the location history with relative ease.

The discovery comes as technology companies are coming under increasing scrutiny for the ways in which they collect, store and share personal information gleaned from consumers’ use of digital devices.

Apple, Google Inc. and Facebook Inc., three of the most popular consumer technology companies, have attracted intense scrutiny from regulators and privacy advocates.

Illustrating the data in dramatic, understandable form, security researchers Pete Warden and Alasdair Allan released a software program Wednesday that allows iPhone and iPad users to download and plot their location histories onto an interactive map, showing their trail over time.

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By Tim Kelly, April 22, 2011 at 12:24 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

LeeFeller - I’m not sure what you’re trying to say, but you may want to keep in mind that many of the recent pro-democracy rallies were coordinated through cell phone access to Twitter and Facebook, and a great deal of video from those demonstrations were recorded on cell phones.

So, yes, it is quite reasonable to expect that a pro-democracy demonstrator is going to carry their cell phone with them, although in the future it is unlikely to be an Apple product.

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By dgbjpn, April 22, 2011 at 10:18 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

O’er the land of the free to speak in the predetermined free speech zone and the
home of the tracked, monitored, obese consumers. Seriously, all jokes aside, what
a joke!  Who needs parody news when we have US reality. What’s the bet every
phone company, on behest of the greatest democracy the world has ever known, 
has the same utility in their mobile products. Come on, how much?

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Leefeller's avatar

By Leefeller, April 22, 2011 at 7:28 am Link to this comment

Yeah! The KKK is right behind you Tim Kelley, they don’t want no repressive society,  where peacefully burning crosses may not be allowed, guess they just are not smart enough to leave the Ipad at home on cross burning nights?

I guess this is comparable to robbing a bank and dropping your wallet?

Now, I understand the concern, but from what I understand no one is forcing an I pad up everyones arse?  Not yet anyway!

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By Tim Kelly, April 21, 2011 at 7:34 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I would not want to have an iPhone if I lived in a repressive society that arrests people for peacefully demonstrating.  No need to wait for the cell phone companies to give up the information - just let your iPhone tell the authorities where you have been (and maybe meeting with other potential demonstrators).

Good thing that doesn’t happen in the U.S.

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By Bacilo de Koch, April 21, 2011 at 5:37 pm Link to this comment

And, by the way…  if you are that nervous about it then encrypt your iPhone
backup.  It is a simple check box on the options on iTunes when you sync your
device.

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By Bacilo de Koch, April 21, 2011 at 5:25 pm Link to this comment

Not true.

The iPhone and 3G versions of the iPad keep a GPS location log as a file in the
device itself, and it syncs with the computer you connect it to.

This file is not transmitted to Apple or anybody else.  How exactly does this
translate into big brother watching?  Way to make the idiots paranoid.

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