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Why and How Apple Is Collecting Your iPhone Location Data

• Brian X. Chen via

iPhone and iPad customers were spooked Wednesday to find out that their devices have recorded a detailed history of their geographical locations for the past year in an unprotected file. But it turns out that Apple already explained its location-collection practices in a detailed letter — almost a year ago.

And even though Apple has provided an explanation, there’s still a problem — the fact that this file containing the data is so easily accessible to anyone, and the fact that this data is stored in such an intricate manner that doesn’t seem to benefit the customer.

“I’m guessing someone screwed up,” said David Navalho, a pHD student specializing in location services on mobile devices with advanced sensors. “It’s basically bad for users. If someone steals the phone they have access to a lot of data.”

The privacy scare stems from a discovery by two data scientists, who revealed Wednesday that iPhones and iPads contain an unencrypted file called “consolidated.db,” which has been tracking and recording your location data in a log accompanied with time stamps for the past 10 months.

Apple’s general counsel Bruce Sewell in July 2010 sent a 13-page letter (.pdf) explaining its location-data-collection techniques in response to a request from Congressmen Joe Barton and Edward Markey asking for Apple to disclose such practices (.pdf). (Incidentally, Markey authored the “Do Not Track” bill to stop online companies from tracking children.)


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