How Your Apple iPhone Spies On You. Is Apple Tracking You? These are some of the actual headlines published since yesterday’s news that every iPhone and 3G iPad is keeping a log of its users’ location based on cell tower triangulation. The Internet was whipped into a fury over the news, acting like this represented a serious breach to a users’ privacy and Apple was somehow stalking all of us from California. The blog posts, headlines, and news articles make it seem a whole lot more serious than it actually is, and here are a few reasons why:
If you care about your data privacy, you should have been encrypting your iOS backups long ago
Apple makes it practically effortless to encrypt your iOS backup files; all you have to do is check a box in iTunes and type in a password. This backup file is where the location data is stored and also contains things like your browsing history, text messages, phone call logs, and emails. Your phone, and therefore its backups, contains a whole lot more sensitive information than where you ate lunch yesterday. If you don’t want someone to be able to access this information about you, you should be encrypting your backups and only making them on a secure computer. This was true long before we found out that location data is being stored.
The government and police have had access to this data for years
Another common concern with this location data being stored is that it would be used by “big brother” to track where you’ve been, but guess what: they’ve been able to do this one for quite a while. Carriers have been storing positioning and triangulation data with your call logs as long as cell phones have been mainstream, and all police need is a warrant to get that information. If you have a cell phone, any kind of cell phone, on you and it’s connected to a network, your location is not private. If you don’t want to be tracked, turn your phone off. Simple as that.
The data stored is actually useful to the phone’s user
The reason for this location log isn’t so Apple can track you. (Seriously, do people really think they are so important that a corporation cares what they are doing every day?) It’s most likely to assist the iOS software in determining your location when you actually want it. GPS isn’t the fastest technology on the planet, but by utilizing logs of your previous locations and both cell tower triangulation and Wi-Fi positioning, the software can get you a position much faster than GPS can all by itself. That’s a good thing, and without the log probably couldn’t happen quite as quickly. Would you sacrifice position lock times for not having a log of your location in your phone? I wouldn’t.
Is your location really that sensitive?
I don’t know about you, but I would have absolutely no problem letting anyone see my location data over the last year. It’s really not very interesting — look, I’m at work now! Now I’m home. Now I’m at the grocery store. Loading my iPhone’s location database onto a map is actually AWESOME for me, seeing everywhere I’ve been plotted out like that, but to someone who doesn’t know me it would just look like a normal person’s life. While it’s understandable that people with something to hide might have an issue with this statement, the data gathered is honestly not even accurate enough to prove anything. My location in the database shows me moving all around the Pioneer Square / Downtown Seattle area during the day, when in reality I am usually sitting at the same desk in the same office for 9 hours a day, 5 days a week. The data is based on where your phone is reporting itself to cell towers, so it’s not accurate enough to, say, prove you were visiting a mistress instead of staying late at work.
Overall, I think most of this rabble is entirely unjustified. Yes, it’s a little disconcerting that Apple didn’t let you know that your location data is being collected, but your phone is a deeply personal device and usually contains plenty of information that you wouldn’t want to share with everyone. The lesson should simply be to take better care of your backups and your phone itself, not to demonize Apple for trying to give its users a better GPS experience.