PDA

View Full Version : iPhone's are keeping track of everywhere you've been



Stez
21st April 2011, 07:32 AM
Here's an interesting news story. Using Mac app iPhone Tracker (http://petewarden.github.com/iPhoneTracker/) you can see on a map everywhere your iPhone has been, and at what time. You don't even need to connect your phone, it gets the data that has been transferred during iTunes syncs and displays it on a map for you to see.

Apple have some explaining to do. I'm not one of those crazy people concerned about their privacy, and I'm not concerned about somebody stealing my computer and getting access to this data, but what I am concerned about is what this data is being used for. Sure, I could really care less, and I know I'm not being specifically targeted or anything, but the fact that we're finding out about this now (I think it's been pointed out the EULA has this somewhere in its 200+ pages) is a little shifty.

Here is the link again (http://petewarden.github.com/iPhoneTracker/), check it out for yourself and see where you've been! The link also has a guide on how to delete the data but it seems very difficult and I don't even know how to follow that tutorial without making a mistake.

It's ironic because Apple are always on about privacy and location data. FFS, I'm always getting annoyed by apps asking for permission to use my location, and here are Apple just taking it without any iPhone user knowing.

Here's an example pic: http://petewarden.github.com/iPhoneTracker/southofengland.png

leon
21st April 2011, 07:36 AM
Saw this this morning. Its pretty crazy to see where you have been as well as where you live.
Not sure I'm too worried about it though.

Stez
21st April 2011, 07:51 AM
Saw this this morning. Its pretty crazy to see where you have been as well as where you live.
Not sure I'm too worried about it though.

Yeah I'm thinking the same thing, not too bothered, but still kinda freaky.

Anybody think Apple are going to come out with a statement in response to this? I'm not a fan of news networks bashing/overpraising Apple but I think this would finally make some good Apple news, but no doubt they'd find a way to push it out of proportion. I don't know, I just don't want to see Apple get away with a ''It's clearly stated in page 176 of the EULA'' or something like that and having that be the end of it because nobody cares.

nbetts
21st April 2011, 08:34 AM
I dont see this as anythng different to the way your computer currently tracks you. Web browsers are constantly storing information on your computer and sending back to Google et al on your browsing habits. Its amazing how fast and how accurate they can build a profile on you and your habits that is then used to target you for advertising.

bartron
21st April 2011, 08:44 AM
Meh. It shows that I'm predominantly active in Canberra and I've been to Sydney, the south coast and the ski fields. Somehow though it missed the 2weeks I spent driving around Victoria not that long ago (not a single hit in the entire state).

While everyone is jumping up and down about this one must put into perspective that it's only one small part of a heap of data that's collected about you every day. Your phone knows where you are but so do the phone companies. If my phone knows this much about me, imagine what Telstra/Vodaphone/optus know.

There's also the flip side of this in that if you are ever wrongly accused of something you could possibly use a tool like this to prove you were somewhere else at the time.

It's just a tool.

Test74
21st April 2011, 08:44 AM
I dont see this as anythng different to the way your computer currently tracks you. Web browsers are constantly storing information on your computer and sending back to Google et al on your browsing habits. Its amazing how fast and how accurate they can build a profile on you and your habits that is then used to target you for advertising.

Okay, but it doesn't track your located and even if it did, it would be one place: Your desk. This however is showing a map of where your iPhone has been, where you've been, and stores it on your computer. It's a privacy issue not only because of people trying to target you for advertising but because it's incredibly easy for somebody to find out where you've been. Maybe a suspicious husband? All they'd have to do is google iPhone tracking and I'm sure they'd find there way onto this application. Copy the backup onto a USB and your done. Maybe it's not that much of an issue for us but how many people are aware this is possible for somebody to do, even without access to the phone?

bartron
21st April 2011, 08:48 AM
Turn on encrypted backups. Then no-one can read the data.

It's not like this is something you can't do anything about. At least now you know it's there unlike all the other crap that collected about you that you don't know about.

mac_man_luke
21st April 2011, 08:51 AM
Its not real accurate but it does show the general area where you were, city level accuracy id say.

Bit odd that its there though

Stez
21st April 2011, 08:53 AM
Turn on encrypted backups. Then no-one can read the data.

It's not like this is something you can't do anything about. At least now you know it's there unlike all the other crap that collected about you that you don't know about.

That isn't the point. The issue is people don't know that the iPhone is tracking their location. If Apple let people know instead of hiding it more people would use encrypted backups.

---------- Post added at 08:53 AM ---------- Previous post was at 08:52 AM ----------


Its not real accurate but it does show the general area where you were, city level accuracy id say.

Bit odd that its there though

It almost got me right down to the street :/

MrJesseRoss
21st April 2011, 08:55 AM
It thinks I've been to Tailem Bend (never have) but my house didn't even come up as a blip. Accuracy isn't great.

decryption
21st April 2011, 09:09 AM
I reckon it's pretty cool, hahah

North East USA:
https://img.skitch.com/20110421-8t42n93a74i8i52pt5h387qixe.jpg

Out and About Around Melbourne:
https://img.skitch.com/20110421-eq7b3i39cqhe7mu4q85yeth3jc.jpg

Shame I've only got 2 months of info. Had to restore my iPhone whilst in the USA :(

Velociraptors
21st April 2011, 10:22 AM
There's a bit of inaccuracy in the app here, but I'm putting that down to it somehow finding backups of another iPhone (I keep backups of mum's machine here) and combining its data with mine. There are a few roads off to holiday places only she's been to that're well-represented.

Steve_D
21st April 2011, 10:33 AM
For those people that are jumping up and down about the amount of information and that Apple never told you that they would be tracking your movements with the phone thats not entirely true.

Its in the EULA, its just so long that no one actually bothers to read it all.

As for the data collected its randomly gathered location data.
If you use Facebook, Twitter, Google, Foursquare, Places, Instagram, Safari, Angry Birds Bing or generally anything to do with a phone at all. Then more information than this is gathered about you every time your phone pings back to the network.

Hell i used to work for Optus many years ago and the level of detail we could gather about a customer back then from basic cell tower location and usage logs was staggering, imagine how much more detailed that is now, especially considering that people willingly log into places to tell everyone what they are doing.

Time to stop with the Big Brother is watching you crap.

If you don't like it the simple solution is this...

http://images2.memegenerator.net/ImageMacro/6831757/get-off-the-internet-go-outside.jpg?imageSize=Medium&generatorName=O-Holy-Martin

Stez
21st April 2011, 10:43 AM
I don't think ''It's in the EULA'' is an excuse at all apart from Apple to cover their ass in court. The fact that nobody reads it should be enough reason that it isn't good enough to have it in there.

Look, I don't want to make a fuss and to be honest I'm not quite bothered, you can track me all you like. But if I had the option to disable it in settings, I would.

I don't like these ''it's not a big deal, it's the internet'' responses at all, even though in a sense they're correct what Apple is doing is just wrong. They shouldn't be collecting data from iPhone's without your permission, because they're not being used for something we approve of, otherwise they'd have an opt out!

Saw this in a Gizmodo article on the subject:
Update 2: Google has declined to comment on the regard as to the exact nature of their locational data collection.

Why? Why not just tell us? If you want me to believe it's not a big deal then tell me what the fuck your using my location for. Same goes for Apple. It's unacceptable. Seems it started with iOS 4. I'm sorry I must have missed the keynote where the first big feature was: We're tracking everywhere your going and your not going to find out until 6 months later!

No wonder iOS gets slower after every release. Wonder what other shit they've put in there that I don't know about.

Steve_D
21st April 2011, 10:52 AM
If google was to release its location data usage then Android users would be in for a rude shock.

Dont be evil my ass

bartron
21st April 2011, 11:03 AM
That isn't the point. The issue is people don't know that the iPhone is tracking their location. If Apple let people know instead of hiding it more people would use encrypted backups.

It is the point....the point being that at least you have access and can see what is being tracked.

If you thought you could anonymously travel the country and still have a device in your pocket for people to reach you on then you are naive to think that the information used in order for your phone to work can't be tracked. The reason someone is able to call your phone no matter where you are is because the phone companies know where your phone is in order to call it. Has been like that since the inception of mobile telecommunications.

For all we know the info Apple is collecting on the device is just part of enhancing the accuracy/speed of location services. Why ping mobile phone towers all the time for location info if you've already done that before and can just recall it from an internal database. How do you think iPhone GPS gets your initial location so fast?

Steve_D
21st April 2011, 11:09 AM
Well said Bartron

feeze
21st April 2011, 12:13 PM
It thinks I've been to Tailem Bend (never have) but my house didn't even come up as a blip. Accuracy isn't great.

It tracks the cell towers you've connected to not your GPS coordinates.

Steve_D
21st April 2011, 12:23 PM
Exactly and it uses these towers to do its triangulation of where you are located when using the GPS app.

The data collected here is no different to the information your bank collects every time you use your card.
they log your card number, location of the transaction and the amount of the transaction.

The same can be said for the data on the iPhone. They keep a log of phone towers that you access. Then they send that data to Apple. Apple then notice that there are blind spots in the location data and they start to complain to the providers to fix these issues or risk loosing their contracts.

Because we all know when your call drops out its ALWAYS the iPhones fault first and NEVER the provider.

So believe it or not this data is actually benefitting the customers. So much for the conspiracy theorists.

Oh yeah an ALL phones do this, its just front page news when Apple do it.

gikku
21st April 2011, 03:45 PM
This app is way too cool.

oh, the outrage!
Is this really a surprise? what did the winers think was happening when they used the Google Maps app, whereis or turned Location Services on, really.

ada_lovelace
21st April 2011, 04:07 PM
For those commenting on the lack of accuracy, the application FAQ states that this has been artificially reduced 'to make it less useful for snoops', but that the actual data stored on your computer by Apple is more accurate than what's shown in the app - also that Apple's data is timed to the second, even though they've chosen to only let you animate week-by-week.

Great application. Not sure how I feel about Apple collecting the info.

~Coxy
21st April 2011, 04:14 PM
oh, the outrage!
Is this really a surprise? what did the winers think was happening when they used the Google Maps app, whereis or turned Location Services on, really.

That data is tracked whether or not you use any Location Services application or not.

Worth pointing out that it's in IOS 4.x only. Yet another reason to stay on 3.x if you can...

billenya
21st April 2011, 06:38 PM
I know the website says it's a dumbed-down version of what's been tracked, but it's got me up to 100-150km away from places I've been to... surely it's not using cell towers that far away (when I would have been closer to other ones?). I'll add that I am in Tassie.

Stez
21st April 2011, 07:13 PM
For those commenting on the lack of accuracy, the application FAQ states that this has been artificially reduced 'to make it less useful for snoops', but that the actual data stored on your computer by Apple is more accurate than what's shown in the app - also that Apple's data is timed to the second, even though they've chosen to only let you animate week-by-week.

Great application. Not sure how I feel about Apple collecting the info.

Hmm. Would be interesting to see how accurate this really is then.

If it really is second by second then I'm curious how much battery life it's eating up. Could also see this used for bosses wanting to know where somebody who called in sick really was on whatever day but they'd need to be syncing their iPhone at work first and then somebody would need to come up with an app to show the full detail of this data. Still, probably not long until we start to see ''iPhone location tracking cost me my job'' articles on Gawker blogs :p

mitty
21st April 2011, 07:19 PM
The App deliberately snaps the various locations to the nearest grid point so it can't be used to pinpoint your location, but the actual data is apparently very accurate. Only a matter of time before a completely accurate version is released (not to mention a Windows version).

foovo
21st April 2011, 11:46 PM
Come the Rapture, aren't you glad Steve is tracking you so the mothership can beam you aboard? You want to keep those lycra jumpsuits nearby at all times OK :)

Sambo
21st April 2011, 11:59 PM
I reckon it's pretty cool. Apple should release this as a feature.

Velociraptors
22nd April 2011, 12:11 AM
The App deliberately snaps the various locations to the nearest grid point so it can't be used to pinpoint your location, but the actual data is apparently very accurate. Only a matter of time before a completely accurate version is released (not to mention a Windows version).

I took out the snapping feature and recompiled it, and it's still quite a way off on many points, which are clustered around population areas. Some places (such as a walking trail in the blue mountains) comes up tops for accuracy, others it seems to be almost 20km off and (presumably) follows towers on a road I've never been on...

I thought it was picking up locations from my mum's iPhone, but I don't actually have backups of hers on here (nor does it run 4.x... yet)

http://www.danaquarium.com/tmp/sydneyclusters.jpg is one with some major inaccuracy - the kurrajong/bilpin road with a few dots along it is one I haven't been on in fifteen years, and afaik my iPhone hasn't been there either!

violaceous
22nd April 2011, 12:12 AM
Get your facts straight. It's cell triangulation, not GPS; to power up the GPS at regular intervals would be an insane drain on any phone. Therefor, it can't be accurate to any degree, the exception being when skyhook is available.

I don't see the problem with any of this, everyone is revealing their location via twitter/facebook/foursquare anyway, which is probably a much bigger privacy threat. Apple isn't collecting any of this, it's like me saying that 1Password (the company) collects passwords.

Velociraptors
22nd April 2011, 02:41 PM
My iPhone (fresh-restored to factory clean after I zipped up previous backups) created a consolidated.db with a few dozen points in it within 30 minutes of the restore ending, all of them with the same timestamp.

Mapped, they look like this: http://www.danaquarium.com/tmp/30minutes.jpg

That looks more like a list of towers close-by than anything remotely to do with tracking where the phone itself has been. For reference, I'm in Bathurst city itself. I could imagine errors forming a spray of random points around my location, but not ones that follow main roads and other population centres so precisely.

bartron
22nd April 2011, 04:11 PM
My iPhone (fresh-restored to factory clean after I zipped up previous backups) created a consolidated.db with a few dozen points in it within 30 minutes of the restore ending, all of them with the same timestamp.

Mapped, they look like this: http://www.danaquarium.com/tmp/30minutes.jpg

That looks more like a list of towers close-by than anything remotely to do with tracking where the phone itself has been. For reference, I'm in Bathurst city itself. I could imagine errors forming a spray of random points around my location, but not ones that follow main roads and other population centres so precisely.

So, less big brother tracking info and more finding where the nearest mobile towers are.

If I were of malicious intent the best I could get from that 30 minute sample is that you were somewhere in Bathurst within that timeframe. I'd have about the same odds (and better accuracy, down to the street address) picking your name out of the phonebook.

Talk about a storm in a teacup.

entropy
22nd April 2011, 05:04 PM
This File existed as a differently named plist file in iPhone OS 3. It was renamed to a db file in iOS4.

It's purpose is related to A-GPS and other location based services. By having info on a cell tower related to a phone location stored on the device, the iphone can find the location of the iPhone much quicker and importantly, by using less power.

I guess the problem is that the data stays on the phone permanently. Perhaps it would be better if it was deleted after a few months. Frequent locations would have occurred within that timeframe anyway.

Stez
22nd April 2011, 05:11 PM
So, less big brother tracking info and more finding where the nearest mobile towers are.

If I were of malicious intent the best I could get from that 30 minute sample is that you were somewhere in Bathurst within that timeframe. I'd have about the same odds (and better accuracy, down to the street address) picking your name out of the phonebook.

Talk about a storm in a teacup.

It was posted earlier that they reduced the accuracy of the app so it can't be used maliciously but the actual data is very accurate.

Velociraptors
22nd April 2011, 05:15 PM
This File existed as a differently named plist file in iPhone OS 3. It was renamed to a db file in iOS4.

It's purpose is related to A-GPS and other location based services. By having info on a cell tower related to a phone location stored on the device, the iphone can find the location of the iPhone much quicker and importantly, by using less power.

I guess the problem is that the data stays on the phone permanently. Perhaps it would be better if it was deleted after a few months. Frequent locations would have occurred within that timeframe anyway.

By the look of my old year-long recorded consolidated.db, the only record of Bathurst (where I am now) in the whole database appeared to be current, today or yesterday. There was no history in the entire file of a year's worth of moving around this town apart from these extremely recent entries.

Without taking a closer look at one of those files I couldn't say for sure, but it appears any locations preserved in it are only the most recent ones. I might have traveled through the blue mountains half a dozen times over the last year for example, but only the most recent 'trip' is recorded, through updating the position and timestamp of the towers I passed at that time.

---------- Post added at 05:15 PM ---------- Previous post was at 05:13 PM ----------


It was posted earlier that they reduced the accuracy of the app so it can't be used maliciously but the actual data is very accurate.

It was, but I stripped out that part of the app, and the points plotted in that image reflect those preserved in the .db file to within a meter or two.

sirstaunch
22nd April 2011, 07:23 PM
When things go wrong, people point to Apple: They are all doing, Androids yes,
At least some phones running Google's Android OS also store location information, Swedish programer Magnus Eriksson told CNET today. And research by another security analyst suggests that "virtually all Android devices" send some of those coordinates back to Google.

How police have obtained iPhone, iPad tracking logs | Privacy Inc. - CNET News (http://news.cnet.com/8301-31921_3-20056344-281.html) Police have known for sometime etc

Law enforcement agencies have known since at least last year that an iPhone or iPad surreptitiously records its owner's approximate location, and have used that geolocation data to aid criminal investigations.

automan
22nd April 2011, 08:18 PM
I didn't see this posted before, but this was a good read (or take) on it as well:-

https://alexlevinson.wordpress.com/2011/04/21/3-major-issues-with-the-latest-iphone-tracking-discovery/

And yes, its been there before, it was just moved for iOS4.
Can't have everything both ways. Oh, I wish my iPhone would do this,...but I don't want it doing that.
And from what I read I'm sure the info doesn't go back to Apple,..it just get saved on your computer.
So if you have people who can access your computer without you knowing to get that sort of info or grab it off your computer, then you'd better look at other security before worrying about the iPhone. LOL :)

battye
23rd April 2011, 06:00 PM
For anyone interested, here's an article on how to optimise the iPhone Tracker software: CricketMX.com • How to get the most out of iPhone Tracker on Leopard and how does it impact our privacy (http://www.cricketmx.com/articles/read/how-to-get-the-most-out-of-iphone-tracker-on-leopard-and-how-does-it-impact-our-privacy/) - ie. how to re-compile it so it runs on Leopard (it only runs on Snow Leopard by default), how to get more information and increase the precision, etc.

Mac Monk
24th April 2011, 12:33 PM
I reckon it's pretty cool. Apple should release this as a feature.

Totally agree Sambo.

Someone should make an app that uploads the data and plots it to a configured website at chosen timespans for general use ie: parents tracking their children every 10 mins, backpackers/travellers every hour so family can 'watch' or at least have a record if they go missing, etc.

kyte
24th April 2011, 03:40 PM
Just ran mine, so it shows me wandering about Newcastle etc... bah! Not very interesting at all.


Get your facts straight. It's cell triangulation, not GPS; to power up the GPS at regular intervals would be an insane drain on any phone. Therefor, it can't be accurate to any degree, the exception being when skyhook is available.

I don't see the problem with any of this, everyone is revealing their location via twitter/facebook/foursquare anyway, which is probably a much bigger privacy threat. Apple isn't collecting any of this, it's like me saying that 1Password (the company) collects passwords.

Bang on. As it happens, when I had the 2G iphone I signed up to skyhook so google maps was more accurate for me around here, but I am not sure if I really give a rats about whether Apple has the info or not. Generally... not, I guess. I gave some thought to jailbreaking again and installing untrackrd but, I dunno that I can be bothered, really.

bawpcwpn
24th April 2011, 06:20 PM
I'd love to see this saw built in, opt-in feature for MobileMe. Lost your iPhone? Find it's approximate location.
And as Mac Monk said, for backpackers/travelers, if they go missing. I'm going travelling in five weeks, and while I don't think anything would happen to me, I'd love to give my family access to a feature like that as a failsafe.

decryption
24th April 2011, 06:36 PM
I'd love to see this saw built in, opt-in feature for MobileMe. Lost your iPhone? Find it's approximate location.
And as Mac Monk said, for backpackers/travelers, if they go missing. I'm going travelling in five weeks, and while I don't think anything would happen to me, I'd love to give my family access to a feature like that as a failsafe.

They do this already :p
"Find my iPhone"

It's free too.

Find My iPhone for iPhone, iPod touch and iPad on the iTunes App Store (http://itunes.apple.com/au/app/find-my-iphone/id376101648?mt=8)

Velociraptors
26th April 2011, 08:47 AM
Holy crap!

I modified iPhoneTracker to show wifi access points (it's in the code, just disabled) - and these are the ones it detected *just* from sitting on my desk...

http://www.danaquarium.com/tmp/wifilocations.jpg

Who knew!

bartron
26th April 2011, 09:00 AM
That's very interesting. I imagine it's getting that data from elsewhere as I doubt you'd be seeing those from the device itself.

Velociraptors
26th April 2011, 09:12 AM
yeah - it needs to send the MAC addresses of any it *does* see back to Apple in order to get their location, obviously; knowing that and my approximate location, Apple could then quite easily send back a whole circle around me.

Though, the squished circle there does follow geographic boundaries, and part seems hidden by existing hills and extends further along flat areas.

Interestingly, from a tracking perspective, it appears the wifi points that appear directly accessible to the phone (my wifi's MAC address and those of my neighbours) are the ones in the database with a 0,0 lat/long location. Almost as if it's trying purposely not to 'track'.

bartron
26th April 2011, 09:25 AM
Are there any Details about the access points themselves? I.e. Could you discover which ones were open?

Atually, if it's pulling wifi access points from Apple then whose to say they aren't doing the same for mobile phone towers? In which case any would be spy could only determine your approximate whereabouts rather than a specific location.

Velociraptors
26th April 2011, 09:43 AM
From what I've read there's no protocol for a cell tower to tell a device what the tower's precise location is - so it sounds like cell tower info is also coming from Apple, yes. I'm guessing the iPhone detects a few towers, sends the info to Apple, and Apple returns with the location of those towers and a few others within a sane distance.

http://www.danaquarium.com/tmp/wifipoints.jpg

http://www.danaquarium.com/tmp/cellpoints.jpg

For wifi and cell entries in the database, respectively.

bartron
26th April 2011, 10:03 AM
That sheds some light on my experience.

I ran the app and despite spending 2 weeks in Victoria I didn't get a single hit in the entire state. Now I know why, because I didn't have a 3G sim in my iPhone the entire time* (and never used location services. My phone was literally just a phone and portable angry birds device), therefore no connection to apple to get tower locations.


*I have a personal sim and a work one. When not at work (I.e. On leave) I use the personal sim so I'm not getting calls from people at work.

feeze
26th April 2011, 12:36 PM
Holy crap!

I modified iPhoneTracker to show wifi access points (it's in the code, just disabled) - and these are the ones it detected *just* from sitting on my desk...

http://www.danaquarium.com/tmp/wifilocations.jpg

Who knew!


That's very interesting. I imagine it's getting that data from elsewhere as I doubt you'd be seeing those from the device itself.

Interesting map of Wi-Fi points.

It would have to be Wi-fi points you've seen because notice how West Bathurst is empty. I tried having a look at friends houses over there who definitely have WiFi but it's not showing on the map.

The CSU points are interesting too. Bunch of wifi points missing there too.

Velociraptors
27th April 2011, 08:43 AM
A little more info on the wifi points/timestamps.

I went to a client a little over 5km away yesterday, from midday to 3pm. After I came back home I backed up the iPhone, and there was no record of new wifi points.

I went to bed at 11pm after doing another backup; still no record of updated wifi points.

This morning, I find my iPhone has new wifi points in its consolidated.db around where I was yesterday, and all of them contain a timestamp a little after 2am today - that's a twelve hour delay between my iPhone recording its location 5km from home, sending it to Apple, and getting another thousand access points from that position sent to me.

Seems about all that can be gleaned from this file when looking at locations is "You were near here, once"

sirstaunch
28th April 2011, 03:33 AM
Apple speaks out about iPhones Tracking issues Apple - Press Info - Apple Q&A on Location Data (http://www.apple.com/pr/library/2011/04/27location_qa.html)