Reports: Apple iPhones and iPads track users’ every move

Apple’s popular iPhone and iPad products record an unencrypted log of where users take their portable devices, according to several published reports certain to elevate concerns over the potential for consumer electronics to intrude upon privacy.

The data is also stored on any computers synced to iPhones and iPods, according to reports.

From the Associated Press, via San Jose Mercury News:

It’s not clear if other
smartphones and tablet computers are logging such information on their
users. And this week’s revelation that the Apple devices do wasn’t even
new–some security experts began warning about the issue a year ago.

But
the worry prompted by a report from researchers Alasdair Allan and Pete
Warden at a technology conference in Santa Clara, Calif., raises
questions about how much privacy you implicitly surrender by carrying
around a smartphone and the responsibility of the smartphone makers to
protect sensitive data that flows through their devices.

Much
of the concern about the iPhone and iPad tracking stems from the fact
the computers are logging users’ physical coordinates without users
knowing it–and that that information is then stored in an unencrypted
form that would be easy for a hacker or a suspicious spouse or a law
enforcement officer to find without a warrant.

Researchers
emphasize that there’s no evidence that Apple itself has access to this
data. The data apparently stays on the device itself, and computers the
data is backed up to. Apple didn’t immediately respond to a request for
comment by The Associated Press



Two Congressional Democrats, Al Franken of Minnesota and Ed Markey of
Massachusetts, have reacted to the news by demanding Apple CEO Steve
Jobs explain his company’s conduct.

As reported in Huffington Post

Franken highlights some of the potential dangers of this system,
noting that anyone who finds a stolen iPhone or iPad could “easily
download and map out a customer’s precise movements for months at a
time.” The senator also points out that there’s no indication the
software can tell the difference between minors and adults meaning that
“the millions of children and teenagers who use iPhone or iPad devices
also risk having their location collected and compromised.”

Franken is joined by Representative Ed Markey
in calling for clarity. Both want to know why Apple is collecting this
information, how it is collected, what it is used for and who it’s been
shown to. They also want to know why consumers haven’t been told their
devices are recording their movements, and why the information has not
been encrypted.

Franken’s letter is here. This one is Markey’s

Additional coverage at Wall Street Journal, and  Engadget . The latter website has a 2010 letter from Apple general counsel Bruce Sewell to Markey and Texas Republican Rep. Joe Barton in response to similar privacy concerns. Sewell’s letter observes that Apple discloses its data collection practices in its privacy policy and provides users with an opt-out mechanism.