Security and privacy issues have crept up surrounding the iPhone. If you have enabled Location Services on your iDevice, location information of your physical ramblings are being recorded in a database file and stored on your computer every time you sync your iPhone or iPad. This data started being recorded starting with iOS version 4, though this fact was only recently uncovered by people in the industry. While it is not known exactly why Apple is keeping a log of your tracked location information, it does have many people concerned and talking about it. A couple of developers have created a free Mac OSX application that reads the local database files on your computer and show you a visual map of the location information contained in it.
The free Mac app is called iPhone Tracker and is available for free download and open sourced at GitHub. Once you run it, it looks for the database file created by iOS and renders a heatmap of the latest iPhone location info stored in the consolidated.db file. You can even drag the slider or just playback to see the dates and their matching movements on the map. Grab the Mac app at petewarden.github.com.
iPhone Tracker is a Mac app, so it doesn’t work for Windows users, although Apple still keeps a location database on PCs as well. A windows version of iPhone Tracker has been created by a French developer. Be sure to scan for viruses. We have not tested this Windows version and have no idea if it works or not. You can download the 32bit or 64bit versions of iPhone Tracker from raphaelabitbol.info.
It’s not clear why this geolocation data is being stored on your computer by Apple, although for now there is no reason to panic. There is absolutely no evidence that any of this data has been used by Apple and it is not being made available to applications. People just want to know why Apple is capturing this data, why it is being stored locally without encryption, and what if anything Apple plans to do with the data. Another concern is the fact that the data is being stored without your consent. At least now it is possible to see what the tracked information contains thanks to the free iPhone Tracker app.
If you are seriously worried about this geolocation data being stored by your iPhone or iPad, you can take a few steps.
View the Data
Use the iPhone Tracker app to view the database file and see what it contains. If you want to manually do this you will need to view the database using a SQLite viewer. You can find specific instructions on how to do this manual process on the iPhone Tracker website.
Delete the Data
There are already 2 apps that delete location info from your iPhone. These 2 different jailbreak apps have come out in response to the iPhone Tracking news and they delete the location information from your device. If you have already jailbroken your iPhone or iPad, you are able to install these apps from Cydia.
– Untrackered is a jailbreak iPhone app that runs in the background and removes GPS location info every 30 minutes. Untrackered also writes over the deleted files a few times to make them forensically difficult to uncover.
– Location Blocker is another jailbreak app. This app does not run in the background. It wipes all GPS location information and historical data from the consolidated.db file. Location Blocker will also block your iPhone from storing any further cell and Wi-Fi location data.
Turning off Location Services (only if you have iOS 4.3.3)
: Turning off your location services option will keep the iPhone from collecting and storing location data if you update to iOS 4.3.3. Keep in mind that many apps (such as the Maps app) use your location information and won’t function correctly without it.
: Apple has issues multiple statements addressing the location data concerns on the iPhone. For details you can read the press release titled Apple Q&A on Location Data. Apple has stated that turning off your Locations Services should in fact stop the data collection, but there is a “bug” which is going to be fixed with the next iOS software update.
Sometime in the next few weeks Apple will release a free iOS software update that:
- reduces the size of the crowd-sourced Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower database cached on the iPhone,
- ceases backing up this cache, and
- deletes this cache entirely when Location Services is turned off.
In the next major iOS software release the cache will also be encrypted on the iPhone.
: iOS 4.3.3 is out today, which fixes the locationgate issues addressed about.
Here is a video demo of the iPhone Tracker app on the iPhone
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