Maps of My Travels, Courtesy of My Snooping iPhone

No doubt you’ve heard the news by now: Your iPhone is snooping on you, regularly recording data about your whereabouts. My response to this news is similar to David Pogue’s, So what? Of course, there are real forensics implications here, as these hidden files pop up as Exhibit A in divorce trials and criminal prosecutions. The bottom line, I guess, is that if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.

Curious about what my iPhone recorded about me, I downloaded iPhoneTrackerWin, the Windows version of  the Mac application iPhone Tracker. Below you can see two screenshots showing my recent locations nationally and within the northeast. The actual application lets you play your locations as a video, showing where you were on any given day.



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  • While this is a decidedly anti-technology opinion from someone that is generally pro-tech, I am simply not comfortable with the argument that if I have nothing to hide, I have nothing to fear. That might be true in this context, at this time. But what does not give rise to fear of inappropriate intrusion today may become so tomorrow when legal obligations change. I would rather we default to a strict “opt-in” approach to protecting privacy rights to protect against the unknown future uses and misuses of this sort of intrusive tracking. Some privacy is surrendered by virtue of the decision to carry a phone that must connect with cell towers. More than that, however, seems unnecessary and dangerous.

  • Disturbs me. Think abusive spouses, Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon, tech-savvy stalkers.

    • I understand why it would disturb you. Still, the file exists only on the computer you use to sync with your iPhone or iPad. That means someone would first have to get access to your computer before they could ever get their hands on this file. And if they have access to your computer, then they have access to all sorts of your personal information.

  • That’s interesting, Bob. Thanks for sharing. Never mind the potential for “Mr. Ambrogi, where were you the night of …”, the visual of the map could show anomalies in travel (say, for a trial exhibit) more readily than a text file or other representation.

    • I wonder about the admissibility. I noticed strange things in my map, such as a recent visit to Albany. I have not been to Albany in years. That was just one dot and it may simply be that my signal was picked up by an Albany cell tower during a visit to Western Mass. or somewhere else in the region.

  • Ed.

    Bob, are you sure iPhone location data not transmitted to Apple? Perhaps you shouldn’t be so quick to say it’s not.

    “How is Apple collecting geodata?

    According to Apple’s letter, geodata is being tracked and transmitted to Apple only if a customer toggles the Location Services option in the settings menu to “On.” If it’s off, no location-based information will be collected.

    If the Location Services setting is flipped on, the iPhone, 3G iPad and, to a more limited extent, the iPod Touch and the Wi-Fi iPad, are transmitting geodata to Apple under different circumstances.

    Apple is collecting information about nearby cell towers and Wi-Fi access points whenever you request current location information. Sometimes it will also do this automatically when you’re using a location-based service, such as a GPS app.

    As for GPS information, Apple is collecting GPS location data only when a customer uses an application requiring GPS capabilities.

    Apple claims the collected geodata is stored on the iOS device, then anonymized with a random identification number generated every 24 hours by the iOS device, and finally transmitted over an encrypted Wi-Fi network every 12 hours (or later if there’s no Wi-Fi available) to Apple. That means Apple and its partners can’t use this collected geodata to personally identify a user.

    At Apple, the data gets stored in a database “accessible only by Apple,” the letter says.

    “When a customer requests current location information, the device encrypts and transmits Cell Tower and Wi-Fi Access Point Information and the device’s GPS coordinates (if available) over a secure Wi-Fi Internet connection to Apple,” Apple wrote in the letter.”

    For more information and links to Apple’s letter, see this article:

  • Breaking news on two fronts:

    First, I’ve hired a bunch of forensics experts who have concluded from the above data that Bob visited a Dairy Queen on at least three occasions. However, we can’t tell if he got a vanilla cone dipped in chocolate or just a chocolate cone with no dip. Apple needs to provide a little more granularity in this file.

    Second, Steve Jobs himself has weighed in on the iPhone location scandal (no joke).

  • Very interesting Robert, I wonder if this is being tracked by other smart phones or just iPhones? I am in agreement with your point – so what? If you have nothing to hide then you have nothing to fear, well said.