My iPhone is watching me

Steve Jobs claims “we haven’t been tracking anybody,” but the Apple CEO sure seems to have been collecting quite a bit of information about me!  Having heard all of the media buzz about location information being stored in a secret iPhone file, I decided to run a Mac OS application called iPhone Tracker.  Running the program on the same Mac that runs the iTunes library that is synced with my iPhone 3GS resulted in the graphic below.

As you can see, I have spent a time in California, New England, the Mid-Atlantic and Hawaii over the past year and my iPhone has recorded the whole escapade!  Even a couple quick connections through Denver International Airport have been recorded (I had to think about how that spot got on there, I’ve never really spent any time in Colorado other than to change planes).

The location data that iPhone Tracker was able to pull only went back one year.  I am not certain if more back-data exists in the hidden iPhone file.  The program is very basic and has few options but it gets the data and visualizes it, which is impressive.  I would not have a problem with this information being stored if I had opted into it.  It concerns me, however, that Apple is gathering this data in a hidden file that we are only now discovering and know little about.  With reports of Michigan State Police using forensic data downloaders to extract the contents of citizens’ phones without a search warrant during ordinary traffic stops, it is troubling to think about what else we carry around each day might end up in the wrong hands.

Apple claims that all will be fixed in an upcoming update to its mobile operating system iOS.  How Apple will address the data collection issue, either through an opt-in process or its total elimination is unknown.  The implications of the full-data-download by law enforcement also remains to be seen.  The ACLU is suing the Michigan State Police, charging the department violated data collection laws.