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iPhone Tracker: Apple Has Your Permission to Track You

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The revelation that Apple logs iPhone and iPad users’ movements has caused a fire storm. Privacy advocates, consumers and even politicians are crying foul, but this shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. In fact, every iPhone and iPad 3G user has given Apple permission to track their movements.

Most likely, Apple’s primary reason for collecting the data in the first place is so that it can sell more ads at a better rate. You can download the app and find more information by clicking here.

As GeekWire pointed out, the fine print in Apple’s privacy policy spells out that Apple will track a lot more than just your location. Page 37 of 45 of the privacy policy reads:

We may collect information such as occupation, language, zip code, area code, unique device identifier, location, and the time zone where an Apple product is used so that we can better understand customer behavior and improve our products, services, and advertising.

Of course, most of us iPhone users have given our permission for Apple to track and store our coordinates without actually reading the above text. But we have all hit ‘accept’ when setting up our iOS devices. In lawyer-speak the word ‘may’ means ‘definitely will.’

The non-personal information probably isn’t anything to worry too much about unless you’re standing trial and the prosecutor uses your iPhone’s logs to prove you were at the scene of the crime. But there are other implications that are much more likely. A suspicious spouse, for example, could use the data to check the data to make sure a wayward husband/wife didn’t stop off at a motel during a late night ‘at the office’.

Here’s a video that demonstrates the results of running the iPhone Tracker application.

Our own Warner Crocker tried the iPhone Tracker app out on his Mac. You can see his whereabouts plotted on the above map.

I’m personally not too worried about the implications, but I can certainly understand why some people feel violated.Regardless of what Apple’s using the data for, it does feel a bit stalkerish.

There have been some erroneous reports that Apple is tracking iPhones and iPads via GPS. The tracking is actually done through cell tower triangulation, which isn’t as precise, but accurate enough for most purposes. Mobile phone companies keep similar information about their users, but the big concern here is that the information is easily accessible by anyone with access to your computer or phone.

Encryping backups of your iPhone or iPad will minimize any risk of revealing your whereabouts.

 

Xavier Lanier is the publisher of Gotta Be Mobile and a photographer. He uses too many devices to count, but his current favorites are the iPhone 5s, HTC One, Nikon D800 and Sony RX 100M II. You can follow him on Twitter and Google+.

10 Comments

  1. Viet Huy

    04/21/2011 at 3:37 pm

    Don’t own an iPhone so I don’t know if it is true, but I hear the file contains more infos than only location,
    like also wifi access point info around.

  2. DNel

    04/21/2011 at 4:04 pm

    The bigger question is: can you purchase an iPhone and use it without agreeing to Apple cyber stalking you? If the answer is “no”, then I see it as a big invasion of privacy. If you can use the phone without agreeing to be stalked by Apple by opting out, then I see it as no problem as you gave them permission. This is much different than the agreement you have to agree to when installing software that claims the company still owns the code but allows you to use it.

  3. tivoboy

    04/21/2011 at 4:21 pm

    Once again, this is the type of story that gets so overblown it is ridiculous. My wife called me, said that one the “today” show they had a report. IT said, ANYONE can track you, applications can track you, your BOSS can track you and know exactly which shops you go to, which stores you are in etc.

    First, without access to your computer, nobody can track you with THIS data at least. That is a first step.

    Second, the nature and QUALITY of this data is such that there is really no way other than a REMOTE WALMART that someone could tell which store on a city block I was in, most of the time, on a random walk down 5th avenue, so getting real demographic and shopping habits data would be very hard. This data is much more crude than say a-gps data. Which it isn’t.

    If you want to stop this, just encrypt your itunes backup with a password. Done, nobody can read the file (okay, if they got access to a file, and a lot of computing power, they could probably break the encryption)

    Also, it really is only accessible if you SYNC your iphone, A LOT.

    As usual, totally overblown and far less intrusive and exposing than say a foursquare app, which DOES track you and uploads that data in REAL TIME to a server farm somewhere and could be hacked.

    • James_disalvo

      04/21/2011 at 9:46 pm

      Your wife is a dumbass!

      • tivoboy

        04/22/2011 at 12:34 am

        Well that is an intelligent comment.

  4. Scotty Truman

    04/21/2011 at 4:33 pm

    Apple has a lot of explanation to do with this tracker program. I think that it is not up to them to decide whether people want to collect data of their previous locations. Although it is not that alarming, I still find it weird that this company has thought of this idea. Maybe they are trying a new application, nobody knows! It’s like they made consumers a guinea pig regarding their little experiment.

  5. tivoboy

    04/21/2011 at 4:40 pm

    I think we are going to find that this file is created for the carrier and not necessarilly for apple per se

  6. GoodThings2Life

    04/21/2011 at 11:13 pm

    The agreement says it all… Apple is using it to tailor “content” (ie. advertising) to you for marketing. There is 0 chance someone at Apple is sitting around monitoring it all to say, “OMG! Did you see where Xavier was at today?!”

    Do I think it’s a big deal? Yes, because you don’t have a choice to accept it if you want to use your iPhone. Do I think it’s something to be paranoid about? Absolutely not. It’s not like anyone can access your backups, because I’m certain you all use good passwords and don’t share them with people. Right?

    Also, this is the same type of stuff I’m sure Google and Microsoft are doing (though I know that you have prompts and choices along the way).

  7. JUSTMEMOMMY

    12/13/2011 at 12:39 pm

    My cousin wanted me to ask …..her boss just got an iphone and his service provider is  Telus, her’s is Rogers….She also has an iphone….BUT she was told by one of her co-workers that the boss can track her and other workers at anytime of the day because they all have iphones…..Is that True?

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