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Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Researchers Claim iPhone 3G Tracks Users' Movements

Researchers have found that Apple iPhones and iPads track users' locations and store the data in an unencrypted file on the devices and on owners' computers.

Alasdair Allan, the founder of Data Science Toolkit and Alasdair Allan, a senior research fellow at the University of Exeter, claim that iPhones and 3G iPads are regularly recording the position of the device into a hidden file. Ever since iOS 4 arrived, the devices has been storing a long list of locations and time stamps, the researchers said.

"We're not sure why Apple is gathering this data, but it's clearly intentional, as the database is being restored across backups, and even device migrations," they added.

The specific hidden file is called "consolidated.db." and it is unencrypted and unprotected. The file contains pretty detailed latitude-longitude coordinates along with a timestamp and it is on any machine a users has synched with his/her iOS device, making it easily accessible on the device itself if it falls into the wrong hands.

"Anybody with access to this file knows where you've been over the last year, since iOS 4 was released," the researcher said.

Although there no immediate harm that would seem to come from the availability of this data, the reason of its existence and how Apple intends to use it remain unclear.

Warden and Allan speculated that it might have to do with a future feature that relies on location. "The fact that it's transferred across devices when you restore or migrate is evidence the data-gathering isn't accidental," they said.

Alasdair Allan has also built an application that helps users look at their own data. The application extracts the data from a Mac, then displays the location history on a map.

Apple has not yet commented on the researchers' findings.

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