iPhone Tracks Your Every Move Apparently

I read this article from Charles Arthur on the Guardian Tech Blog with some interest.

So your iPhone can track your every move, well we know that, it has GPS enabled, it has a track my iPhone app available and loads of us use services like FourSquare & Gowalla to check in to locations as we travel, so duh!

Using any of the location sharing services is opt in, IE you tell the iPhone to tell people via a location service where you are, so no big deal there, I choose to say where I am when I want to let you know, if anyone follows @mike_rawlinsotr and thinks that what these tweets tell you are the only times I leave the house, you are sadly mistaken. I use it sporadically when I feel like it or I am trying something out.

But according to research done by Pete Warden & Alasdair Allan your iPhone also collects data of your phones whereabouts silently in the background and stores it. Nobody is sure what Apple want this data for, if indeed they do want it, there is some discussion about it may be being collected for use in future applications, who knows?

Helpfully Warden & Allan have created an application that can read the hidden file on your iPhone and then visualise it on a heat map. So I gave it a go with my just synced iPhone.

So it looks like my phone has been about a bit, let’s zoom in and get some detail.

According to the tracking on my iPhone I have spent some time in Carlisle. Carlisle is a lovely city but I haven’t been there for any length of time in the last 12 months, I have passed through on a train a couple of times and changed for a train to Newcastle but not enough for this heat map to be accurate.

So what do I look at next? Stoke-on-Trent is the obvious one seeing as I spend a lot of time here.

A lot more data but interestingly non near my home location.

What about other places?

I have never been to Dumfries although my phone seems to think I have, I have spent more than a 2 weeks in Aberdeenshire and my phone doesn’t seem to have logged this. My phone is in a far better position than I am as I can still remember being there!

I don’t doubt that the iPhone is capable of and is possibly tracking my location and storing the data, but it isn’t doing it very accurately from what I can see.

So why is the data wrong? The only options I can come up with are:

  • The heat map application is a bit shonky, I don’t have anything to compare this with so please do share your data & findings.
  • The GPS in the iPhone isn’t always reporting correctly because of local conditions.
  • My handset could have been ‘previously enjoyed’ rather than spanking new from the factory and have someone else data still in there?

I’m not sure how I feel about this being an always on option rather than an opt in and judging the data I have had out of my phone I could have an awful lot of explaining to do to @thecurrentmrsr !

Just a minor update, Charles Arthur pointed out that this is covered by the Apple T&Cs

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/charlesarthur/status/60736488807219200″]

but as we all know, this isn’t really an Opt In or Opt Out option, because if you want to use the hardware then you need to agree to the ever expanding Apple T&Cs.

If you have an iPhone give the application a go and see how accurate your data is.

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  1. Steve A says

    Quick off the mark sharing your data here.

    Do you not think there are some security risks associated with doing this in shuch a public domain?

    • Michael Rawlins says

      What security risks are there in a couple of jpg images of historical data?

      There is nothing in the data that I can see that would give anyone any accurate information as to my whereabouts.

  2. Winston Smith says

    “..I choose to say where I am when I want..”

    – Nope, Steve chooses to know where you are when he wants. And Steve always wants.

    • Michael Rawlins says

      Maybe, but there is no evidence of any data from the hidden log file being passed anywhere other than between the iPhone & the machine it is synced with so right now Steve only knows what I tell him….

  3. says

    I found similar discrepancies as yourself. I bought my iPhone as refurbished, so wondered if data would be available from before I got it. You can see the date of the recorded locations in the app – couldn’t you do the same?

    • Michael Rawlins says

      Yes I could see the time line at the bottom. I was more interested in the places where I knew I hadn’t been.

      I need to check the dates of the locations against where I really was and the date I got the phone.

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