iPhone Knows Where You’ve Been Since Last Summer

Written by Frank Hayes
April 21st, 2011

As retailers struggle with geolocation, it turns out that Apple has already done the heavy lifting when it comes to iPhone users. On Wednesday (April 20), two U.K. researchers announced that they found an unencrypted iPhone database that records the user’s location (by latitude and longitude) as many as 100 times each day, based on cell towers, in addition to IP addresses of Wi-Fi access points the phone has connected to and data from geofencing applications. The downside: Some data is wildly inaccurate, and Apple isn’t saying why it’s being stored for as long as a year.

Of course, if there’s a way to create potential privacy problems, Apple will find it—from preserving every iPhone keystroke to recording the user’s heartbeat and guessing the user’s mode of transportation. Unfortunately, because Apple hasn’t explained why this location data is being kept (dating back to whenever iOS 4 was installed on the phone), retailers can’t count on the data being available for anything useful. But maybe Apple just likes keeping track of where its users have been—and always with their best interest at heart. If it was anyone else, this would sound like stalking.


One Comment | Read iPhone Knows Where You’ve Been Since Last Summer

  1. A reader Says:

    The researchers found the Location Services cache of cell tower and wifi access points. Apple collects this information from iPhone users as new radio sources are discovered, then redistributes the information to other iPhone users as they enter the area for the first time. This populates their caches.

    The cache contains information about what areas you have been in, not pinpoints of your exact location. It can tell you were in the loop in Chicago, but not which building.

    iPhones and other iOS devices use all the radio information they can to provide location info in the fastest way possible. The caches work when GPS fails.

    Can this be used or misused? Probably. Is it any worse than carrying a cell phone around and broadcasting your location to every tower you pass? Probably not.


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