iPhone tracking data FAQ Should you care by annyhaiyan


iPhone tracking data FAQ Should you care

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									PR Log - Global Press Release Distribution

                                     iPhone tracking data FAQ: Should you care?

       By battery
       Dated: Apr 25, 2011

       Researchers announced on Wednesday that they found what look like secret files on the iPhone that track
       user location and store it on the device, without the permission of the device owner.

       FAQ: Researchers announced on Wednesday that they found what look like secret files on the iPhone that
       track user location and store it on the device, without the permission of the device owner.

        It is unclear what the data is used for and why Apple has been collecting it in iOS products that carry a 3G
       antenna for nearly a year now.

        Alasdair Allan, senior research fellow in astronomy at the University of Exeter, and writer Pete Warden,
       who discovered the log file and created a tool that lets users see a visualisation of that data, say there's no
       evidence of that information being sent to Apple or anybody else. Even so, the pair note that the data is
       unencrypted, giving anyone with access to your phone or computer where backups may be stored a way to
       grab the data and extrapolate a person's whereabouts and routines.

        To help users understand more about the data that's being collected, what the risks are, and what they can
       do about it, It has put together this FAQ:

        Who are the researchers and how did they find this?

        Warden, who used to work at Apple (though not on the iPhone), and Allan had been collaborating on some
       location data visualisation projects, including a visualisation of radiation levels over time in Japan after the
       earthquake, when Allan discovered the file on an iPhone. "After we dug further and visualised the extracted
       data, it became clear that there was a scary amount of detail on our movements," they wrote in a blog post.

        When did this start and what devices are tracking this data?

        According to Allan and Warden, the tracking did not begin until iOS 4, which was released in late June
       2010. This was the first version of iOS to drop support for devices like the original iPhone, with devices
       like the iPhone 3G and second-generation iPod Touch getting a more limited feature set. Along with
       iPhones, 3G-enabled iPads are also keeping track of the data, though it's unclear if this is true for people
       who have 3G devices without active cellular subscriptions.

        The tracking data itself was actually discovered in 2010. A tool by French programmer Paul Courbis,
       similar to the one released by Allan and Warden, is able to plot up to 10,000 of these data points from the
       database file to a Google Map. The issue was known in forensics circles but not widely, Allan and Warden
       said in a news conference on Wednesday at the Where 2.0 conference in Santa Clara, California. An
       application they released that allows people to see what data is on individual devices makes the abstract
       tracking concept more real.

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Did they contact Apple on their findings?

The researchers said they had contacted Apple's Product Security team, but hadn't heard back.

Where is this data being stored?

 The database of location information is stored primarily on your phone, though due to the iOS device
backup system in iTunes, these files can also end up on your computer. When iTunes saves these backups,
which are set by default to be stored every time you sync an iOS device, the data file goes along with it.

 What's curious is that this log can extend across multiple devices as long as those devices use the same
restore point. Allan and Warden noted that the database used as part of the project spanned an iPhone 3GS
and an iPhone 4, the latter of which had used a restore point.

 The researchers have more technical details and the downloadable application to see a visualisation of the
data collected from your phone over time in this FAQ. The application does not work with iPhones on US
network Verizon, the researchers said.

What's inside this data?

 A database of cell tower co-ordinates and time stamps to indicate when your device was connecting with
them. This includes which operator you're on and the country code. The research also found that Apple was
tracking data about what Wi-Fi networks you were connecting to, which also included slightly less accurate
location information, but continued to track that data by time.

 The researchers' visualisation app (above) shows large blue dots for frequent activity and smaller red or
orange-coloured dots for less frequent activity. However, it's unclear exactly what is triggering the logging,
they said.

 Is there an easier way to see that information than a giant database form?
 Yes, Allan and Warden created an open-source software program that is able to go through the data from
the database file and turn it into a visualisation of what towers your device connected to based on the dates
and times. The pair say the application intentionally cuts down on the accuracy of this data to keep the
software from being used for bad things. You're also likely to see points in places you haven't been, since
the tracking tools within the iPhone make use of nearby cell towers to triangulate location. "As a data geek I
was excited to have this data set, but I don't want anyone else to have this data," Allan said.

What is the harm with this data being collected and stored on the device?

 "By passively logging your location without your permission, Apple made it possible for anyone from a
jealous spouse to a private investigator to get a detailed picture of your movements," the researchers wrote
in their FAQ.

 While acknowledging that there is no need to panic, the researchers noted that if someone gets hold of the
device, they can access the unencrypted data. "Your cell operator has this information," they said at the
news conference. Anyone who wants it has "to get a court order to get that from a provider. But now, all
you have to do is lose your phone in a bar".

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 Apps on the device cannot access the data, because it is "sandboxed", the researchers said. However, it
could be accessed by software on the computer that holds the backup, they said.
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