Report: iPhone collects location data, even with Location Services turned off

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that despite Apple's Location Services being in the off position, iPhones are still collecting your general location data.

Joe Aimonetti MacFixIt Editor
Joe is a seasoned Mac veteran with years of experience on the platform. He reports on Macs, iPods, iPhones and anything else Apple sells. He even has worked in Apple retail stores. He's also a creative professional who knows how to use a Mac to get the job done.
Joe Aimonetti
3 min read


The Wall Street Journal is reporting that despite Apple's Location Services being in the off position, iPhones are still collecting your general location data. National media outlets have been analyzing recent reports that Apple's iPhones and iPads with 3G are tracking location data and storing it in an unsecured location on the iPhone.

According to tests performed by The Wall Street journal, those location data collection practices are not disabled even if all the Location Services (which are turned on by default) are completely turned off.

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The data is stored in a tracking log file named "consolidated.db" and stored on your iPhone. The Wall Street Journal report notes that while the information is collected and stored on your iPhone, it does not appear to be transmitted to Apple (or any other recipient).

The controversy still exists, however, prompting several governmental inquiries into the file and how its information is used. Many analysts and tech bloggers claim that the file is an oversight in iOS, likely used to test Location Services, but not removed before the public release of the software.

Though that may be the case, the existence of the "consolidated.db" file was publicly revealed in 2010--curiously to little response from anyone and with no action by Apple. Now, with the new attention on the situation, expect to see quick and decisive action from Apple, likely in the form of an update to iOS that would remove the file.

Calls to action from Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and a letter from Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) have been joined by investigations from South Korea and some European countries concerned about Apple's intentions for tracking the data. Though many news stories are reporting this file stores "detailed tracking information," it is important to understand what is actually stored in the file.

The "consolidated.db" file only contains approximations concerning the location of your iPhone or iPad 3G. It attempts to find nearby Wi-Fi towers and cell towers and stores the locations of those towers. It does not track specific movement, GPS location information, or latitude and longitude of the device. In fact, the information can have miles of variance depending on the number of tower locations in your area.

Still, until the file is removed and Apple comes up with a good bit of PR writing to explain why it was there in the first place, news outlets and bloggers will likely continue to raise suspicions. As CNET's Josh Lowensohn wrote in an earlier blog post, according to a report from MacRumors, one user attempting to contact Steve Jobs received an alleged e-mail from him. At this time, we have no further information on the legitimacy of the e-mail response.

Q: Steve,

Could you please explain the necessity of the passive location-tracking tool embedded in my iPhone? It's kind of unnerving knowing that my exact location is being recorded at all times. Maybe you could shed some light on this for me before I switch to a Droid. They don't track me.

A: Oh yes they do. We don't track anyone. The info circulating around is false.

Sent from my iPhone

It has been uncovered that indeed Google tracks its Android phones as well, though its tracking system is more of a cache that is constantly cleaned, whereas the "consolidated.db" file is a running log.

Are you concerned about the "consolidated.db" file and the information stored in it? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!