The Watergate equivalent of the digital age occurred last week when two researchers revealed their findings that the iPhone is logging all of your location data into a nifty little consolidated.db file.
Cue gasps of horror.
Ok, now wipe that pretend look of trauma off your face. You almost had me, and I almost cared.
Let’s review the facts in a nutshell. Since the launch of the iOS 4 last June, all iPhone and iPad devices with 3G access have been logging latitude and longitude coordinates along with a timestamp in a file accessible through your device or the computer which holds the iTunes account you use to synch.
The shocker isn’t the data tracking itself – because wireless companies have been doing this for years – it’s rather the concern over how easily-accessible the file is to just about anybody who is moderately computer-literate that has caused the uproar (oh, and by the way, there’s an app for that). There is indeed no user consent, no setting to disable the tracking, and no court order required to obtain the data. Therein lies the debate over the legality of what Apple is doing, something that the courts have yet to decide.
|Thanks for asking.|
We know how they’re doing it but we also know why. Apple is not trying to accumulate circumstantial evidence for blackmail by threatening to tell your wife that you weren’t actually on “a business trip in Japan” because, well, Apple really doesn’t give a flying monkey about that.
The reason Apple is tracking your data is simple, blameless, and smart: it wants to build its own location database so it can stop relying on SkyHook Wireless and Google for the data. It doesn’t have to buy this information thanks its millions of devices roaming the Earth every day.
“It’s tracking your every move!” is a tad of an exageration to say the least. It’s not actually tracking your “every” move. It doesn’t know you left an empty toilet roll in the bathroom at 7am, that you didn’t wash your hands at 3pm, or that you were in room 308 at the Holiday Inn at 11:15pm. It’s simply collecting information about nearby cell towers and Wi-Fi access points. This is how they can improve dropped calls and things like that. Things that make your life more awesome.
I find it highly ironic that, in an era future historians would dub as the “LOOK AT ME” era (brought to you by Foursquare, Gowalla, Facebook Places, etc.), people are not salivating over this discovery. I haven’t seen a sample file yet, but I imagine it’s so simple that one can whip out an Excel pivot table in 2.2 seconds and graph the motherfucker.