Apple Tracking: Who Would Have Thought They Would Become Big Brother?

Yesterday, O’Reilly Media researchers, Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden released an article exposing a hidden file that records every movement  of an iPhone. All iPhones store location data in a file called consolidated.db. Warden released an OS X application to show users the significance of their discovery. The application shows each user where they have been since last July. Not only is the data stored on your phone but also your computer.

This database of your locations is stored on your iPhone as well as in any of the automatic backups that are made when you sync it with iTunes.

This isn’t the first time we have heard of the file. In fact in February 2011, Sean Morrissey and Alex Levinson previewed Lantern 2.0 at a Cyber Crimes Conference in Washington DC.  Lantern 2.0 however is a commercial forensics product that retails from $600-700. And before that, Alex Levinson began work on the vulenerabilities of iPhone and iPad. Check that out by clicking here.

Now step in Alasdair and Pete, they have given consumers outside of forensics the clear picture. To be clear, the program actually doesn’t give away your exact location. They have done some tweaking so that some undesirable that gains access to your system cannot get precise locations, but they made it clear that the file has the precise locations given in latitude-longitude with time-stamps.

So here is what to do:

  1. Do not panic. This information is not shared on the web and remains in your control. So far as anyone can tell this is fairly harmless. The first thing you should do is encrypt your backups. That will prevent other users and programs from accessing the data. This is done through iTunes.
  2. If you are the curious type and are using a Mac—download the software at http://petewarden.github.com/iPhoneTracker/

Apple has yet to respond to this. Let’s hope they come up with something better than, “It’s the Apple way.”