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<firstimage=”//static.makeuseof.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/iphonetrackpreview.jpg” alt=”iphone tracking”>It 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
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!
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.”
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?