Your iPhone Is Tracking You – How To View That Data & Turn It OFF

iphonetrackpreview   Your iPhone Is Tracking You   How To View That Data & Turn It OFFIt has come to light in the past few days that all 3G based iPhone and iPad devices are recording a complete history of your location data ever since you bought the device (or upgraded to iOS v4). On a Mac, it’s incredibly easy to view this data and fascinating to watch your own movements over the course of a year or two. You can still get at the iPhone tracking data on a PC, but it’s a little harder. If you’re worried about the availability of this data, I’ll show you how to turn off the tracking too.

How To View The Data

Mac:

The duo who widely publicised (originally discovered here) this shocking data embedded within iPhone backups have also released a very user friendly app called iPhoneTracker (Mac only) which visualises all of the data points. Download, and upon launching the app, you’ll instantly see all your data points plotted on a map. If you don’t move around a lot like me, you may have to zoom in to see the full extent!

iphonetracker   Your iPhone Is Tracking You   How To View That Data & Turn It OFF

You can also view a video playback of your movements over time with the play button, or skip around through various dates with the slider. Here’s a fascinating video of my movements since September.

PC:

There is no simple app I’m afraid, and you’ll need to have a jailbroken device to get at the file containing the data.

Update: Commenter Ray has pointed out that there is in fact a similar iPhoneTracker app for Windows available here. The following guide is about how to extract that data manually from a jailbroken iPhone, but isn’t necessary if you use the app.

  • First enable SSH access to your iPhone by installing the¬†OpenSSH app from Cydia. Be sure to update Cydia first if you haven’t touched it in a while.
  • Log into your device using an SFTP compatible app such as WinSCP. You’ll need to know the IP address of your device, which you can find under advanced wifi settings. Enter that IP address as the host to connect to, then use the username “root” and password “Alpine“. After a while you should connect and be able to browse your iPhone’s filesystem.
  • Navigate to Library -> Caches -> locationd, and download the file consolidated.db
  • Next, go to this website, where you can upload the file and have your datapoints plotted onto a Google Map. The link is to an English version of the page but the upload and plotting options are in French I’m afraid. The defaults work fine though.

trackersite   Your iPhone Is Tracking You   How To View That Data & Turn It OFF

Possible Uses For This Data & A Reality Check

I’m sure some of you are fuming right now, screaming all manner of civil liberties abuses and what have you. While your feelings are quite valid, here’s a few reasons why you should calm down:

  • Mobile phone providers have been tracking you for years. Of course, it takes a court order to get at it, but your data is still out there somewhere.
  • The data doesn’t leave your computer – at least not in any way that is known of currently.
  • There is no conspiracy against your freedoms.

The question still remains though of how Apple is using the data, if at all. One guess is that because the data appears to track location through tower triangulation rather than GPS, that it may be used to show areas where reception needs to be improved.

Here’s a discussion/ interview from the guys who discovered it.

How To Turn It Off

On a standard untouched iPhone or iPad there is currently no way to turn this location tracking off. Simply disabling location tagging or location services in settings does NOT work, because the tracking is performed at a much deeper level. You can however prevent simple local access to the data (and stop the iPhoneTracker app from working) by simply encrypting iPhone backups from iTunes.

encyrpt backup   Your iPhone Is Tracking You   How To View That Data & Turn It OFF

The good news is that if you’re running a jailbroken device, the free app untrackerd available from cydia will run in the background and prevent tracking. According to the makers:

“A package installs a daemon (process that can run in the background) to clean consolidated.db file) No new icons are added to your homescreen. There are no options to configure.‚ÄĚ

untrackerd   Your iPhone Is Tracking You   How To View That Data & Turn It OFF

Scary stuff, or nothing to be afraid of? Let us know what you think in the comments. Do you have any wacky ideas of how Apple could be using this information, or do you think the whole thing is being blown out of all proportion?

The comments were closed because the article is more than 180 days old.

If you have any questions related to what's mentioned in the article or need help with any computer issue, ask it on MakeUseOf Answers—We and our community will be more than happy to help.

13 Comments -

Ray

There is a windows version

http://huseyint.com/iPhoneTrackerWin/

James Bruce

Thanks Ray, I’ll add the link into the article now!

Ray

There is a windows version

http://huseyint.com/iPhoneTrac

Tina

The guy who first reported about the tracking in a book in 2010, Alex Levinson, has co-developed a software (Lantern 2.0) that has been used in forensics to extract and analyze these data.

While it’s fine that the data can help solve criminal cases, there are more implications here. For example anyone traveling in / to the US, should listen up. US authorities can legally seize your electronics and make a copy of your data. Gotta love your big brother…

James Bruce

shame there’s no truecrypt for ios…

Jack Cola

I laugh at all those suckers who love Apple who must have an iPhone/iPad.
You feeling a bit like fool now? Plus it was even stated in the terms of service!

I don’t mean to be hurtful in anyway, but to me, the iPhone popularity is all because of marketing.

So who will be buying an iPhone 5?

James Bruce

lol. The iPhone is popular because its the best phone out there with a wide variety of apps, and follows the same single hardware ethic that has made OsX a pleasure to use as opposed to the constant struggle against windows.

I feel sorry for all those suckers with Android devices, who only bought into the hype out of hatred for apple. When it comes down to it, most android devices suck, plain and simple. But hey, at least they’re not made by apple! So it’s a moral decision to keep the market competitive and encourage open source software! Yeah!

So, I guess you werent one of the poor sods who downloaded random malware from the android app store? good thing they dont check those eh?

Trololol ;P

Jack Cola

Don’t get me wrong, it was a good phone at the time, and changed the mobile industry a lot, but way over price for what it’s worth. They weren’t that great either as they were missing standard features like MMS (when that was popular)

I would probably buy and Android over Apple and probably Windows Phone.

But who am I to complain – I’ve got a Nokia with Symbian.

Anyway, back to the topic of the post…. I’ve done my rant for the day :)

Good post by the way.

Danderson64

Wow. Its amazing that people defend Apple regardless of the poor quality of the phones. I had several of every model and all have issues which Apple can’t resolve. Not to mention they want allow you to view a flash player. I have an android which out performs the iphone 4 hands down. Iphones are nice but not the elite. People should be honest when evaluating products but its like the obama fans i guess, he can do no wring. Stop drinking the coolaid.

Martin Kuttner

Pointing your iOS device to https://oo.apple.com will turn it off for good. (Or so they say?)

Scary stuff? Well why would it be scary if this data gets saved onto your internal memory? The scarier thing would be if it leaves the device without your knowledge.

James Bruce

really? who says that?!

James Bruce

I see. No, that doesnt work. Thats only for opting out of iAd-vertising

Martin Kuttner

Pointing your iOS device to https://oo.apple.com will turn it off for good. (Or so they say?)

Scary stuff? Well why would it be scary if this data gets saved onto your internal memory? The scarier thing would be if it leaves the device without your knowledge.