Researcher: iPhone, iPad track users' whereabouts

Authors of O'Reilly Radar story say they will talk at the Where 2.0 conference today about location-tracking information they have found in iPhones and 3G-capable iPads that are running iOS 4.

A map showing location tracking information from the iPhone.
A map showing location-tracking information from the iPhone. O'Reilly Radar

Apple iPhones and 3G iPads running iOS 4 might be tracking their owners' movements, a new report from O'Reilly Radar claims.

Alasdair Allan, senior research fellow in astronomy at the University of Exeter, and writer Pete Warden say they have found evidence that the iPhone, 3G iPad, and backups on users' computers contain detailed location information, including latitude, longitude, and time stamps, that show where the mobile devices have been. In addition, the information is "unencrypted and unprotected, and it's on any machine you've synched with your iOS device," they claim.

The information is reportedly stored in a file called "consolidated.db." The writers claim that the information, which isn't "always exact," started being collected around the time of the launch of iOS 4 last year. They say that they have found "tens of thousands of data points in this file" that, they believe, were collected via cell-tower triangulation.

The fact that the iPhone or 3G iPad can be tracked isn't all that surprising. Apple currently offers a free app, Find My iPhone , that lets users track their smartphone from another device. The service is also available to iPad and iPod Touch owners.

However, the claims made by Allan and Warden are a bit different. For one, in their findings, users don't know that they're being tracked. Moreover, exactly why that information is reportedly being tracked is unknown at this point. And as they rightly noted, "cell phone companies have always had this data, but it takes a court order to access it."

Although the alleged findings will raise some red flags in the privacy and security community, it's worth noting that the information the writers allegedly came across is not being leaked out over the Web.

People who are concerned that their iPhone or iPad is tracking their locations can find out with the help of an application Allan and Warden released, named iPhone Tracker. The open-source application maps all the points of location information saved in the user's devices.

I ran the application on my computer to find out if my iPhone has been tracking me. It returned a detailed map showing the many places I've been with my smartphone.

Allan and Warden plan to discuss their findings in more detail later today at the Where 2.0 conference in Santa Clara, Calif.

Apple did not immediately respond to CNET's request for comment.

 

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