Apple is stalking you, but it’s awesome.

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.

Let’s not pretend y’all ain’t going to design a wicked animated colour-coded 3D-rendered heat-mapped annotated musically accompanied giant display of your location data and frame it in your living room. Then post it to Facebook and Like.
Regardless on whether the courts decide Apple is playing by the book or not, it definitely is an oopsy on its part and a little mea culpa from Steve Jobs would not be un-welcomed. I don’t think the un-encryption was done intentionally, but rather occurred out of of a pure laziness. It’s a good wake-up call for Apple though: your engineers are not necessarily smarter than your consumers.
However, let’s please stop hating on the company that has brought us the most awesome awesomeness known to mankind.
Seriously, think of all the ways Apple has enriched our lives. You can hold your phone to a song playing at the bar and it will tell you what song it is! You can dictate a novel and it will type it out for you – in Chinese! Hold your iPhone to the sky and it will spell out the stars, planets and constellations for you!
Think about it: if Apple is sued for billions of dollars they would have less money to make more awesome things. And that would be the greater tragedy of it all.

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