Apple has a history of wanting to gather as much information about its user base as possible. Google has been caught numerous times with the same problem when it recorded people’s Wi-Fi connections through its Google cars when gathering data to build Google Street view.
Well today, O’reilly Radar have found that Apple may have taken it a step too far as they have been recording the position of your iPhone and 3G iPad devices ever since the release of iOS 4 in July 2010.
They found that the devices save the position of your device in a hidden file named “consolidated.db” by means of recording the latitude-longitude coordinates with the addition of a timestamp. It could be speculated that it could have been a mistake by Apple but that argument is later refuted when they find that iTunes includes a copy of the database within your device backups, so when you restore the backup, even to a new device, the data is kept. It’s clear that Apple is recording this information intentionally but the question is why?
What makes the problem a little more strange is that by recording such data, Apple are putting your data at security and privacy risks as the file is unencrypted and stays on any machine that you have previously synched your iPhone/iPad with. It also leaves a more real problem for the users of iOS 4 – anyone who knows how to access that file can locate where you’ve been in all the time you’ve had the device. For many people, that period of time will likely be a year, meaning a year of information of your locations have been saved into that file.
In addition to recording the wireless access points it also records cell towers and GPS. Since this affects all iOS 4 users it essentially means all of Apple’s own employees have been recorded – was it ever in their company contract that Apple had right to record where they go?
Thankfully there is a way to start to protect yourself, by encrypting your backups through iTunes which can be done by clicking on your device in iTunes and checking ‘Encrypt iPhone backup’ under the Options menu.
The author from O’reilly has created an app that will allow you to view your own data that it’s recorded.