Storm Over iPhone Tracker Prompts Questions from Congress

Reports that iPhones are tracking and storing your every move are causing some Congressional leaders concerned about privacy to question Apple's motives. Reactions to yesterday's revelations that a single unencrypted file on iPhones has been recording location data since the installation of iOS 4 has been mixed.

iPhone Tracker open source application

Some have reacted with amusement, looking at maps of their whereabouts using the open source iPhone Tracker software posted on the web by researchers Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden. Others are wary of Apple's purpose and concerned that this location data is routinely backed up to computers using iTunes.

Allan and Warden discovered the file contains timestamps and latitude and longitude coordinates sampled from nearby cellular towers tens of times daily, generating a list of up to 100 location measurements accurate to within 164 feet every day. The researchers presented their work at the Where 2.0 conference in San Francisco on Wednesday, along with maps of their whereabouts as recorded by iOS devices. The iPad has also been discovered to have the mystery location log.

In any event, the data appears to remain local to the iOS device and in any backup synced with a computer. Apple does not appear to be sending the data anywhere. Still, questions remain as to the purpose of the file. Some have commented that Apple maybe intended to store a location cache briefly but neglected to erase older information. Now they will have to answer to Senator Franken, who heads up a privacy committee in Congress. He sent a letter to Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple regarding the privacy issue.

Until Apple decides to comment on the matter or update iOS to remove the location logging feature, Allan and Warden indicate the file migrates from device to device for an individual user, making it clear that Apple has something in mind for the data. After all, the terms of service in iTunes clearly states that the collection of detailed location data for Apple devices is fair game.