Everyone’s a privacy nut until they get lost in the woods and need someone to come find them
It looks like I am apparently one of the few, if not the only, tech journalists out there who is not freaking out about the newly discovered “location tracking” file having been found on both the iPhone and the backup the iPhone makes on your computer each time you sync. If you somehow missed it, the short version is Apple has apparently been logging the location of every iPhone on the planet and storing the time and location of everywhere the iPhone has been for at least the past year.
This of course sounds like a huge security hole, and it is – for approximately 0.00000003% of the current iPhone users.
Think for a second about your daily iPhone use, and what it would mean to you if someone were able to get a rough approximation of where you’ve been over the last year. OK, so they would probably know where you live, or at least 400 feet of where you live, which would obviously not be a big deal, since in order to view this file, odds are they have physical access to either your iPhone and/or your computer, so it’s safe to assume they also already know where you live. Now, think of how many location-based iPhone apps you use on a daily basis to broadcast your whereabouts – from FourSquare check-ins to Twitter posts to Facebook photo uploads (possibly with your complete GEO tag location embedded those photos) odds are you’ve been broadcasting that information yourself for years.
But OK, at least you CHOSE to post your info, and Apple’s not telling you what IT’S been doing, right? Well sort of. Unlike YOU, Apple hasn’t actually been publishing the information it has been gathering. As of now, no one knows why Apple has collected this information, but it apparently has not been sharing it with anyone, even itself. And that (for me at least) is the only interesting thing in the story.
So, the press seems to be going nuts because there is a file that someone who REALLY knows what they are doing, and is more than a little tech savvy, and has access to your computer or iPhone can use to find out where you have been within a few hundred feet AS OF YOUR LAST SYNC (this is NOT real-time tracking). Let’s ignore for the moment that the phone companies have also been keeping track of users’ locations on pretty much EVERY phone for years. The only real world scenario where this would be a problem would be for adulterers frightened that their spouses could find evidence of cheating, or perhaps top-secret spies. But if you do not fall into either of those two categories, odds are you can relax. After all, type your name or a friend’s name into a site like PeopleFinders and odds are you’ll find your info is already on the web.
Let me be clear, I’m not saying Apple is right to be storing this file (especially so insecurely), and it appears no other phones currently do this. Apple had also apparently told Congress last year that the data stored on the iPhone was stored privately (which I suppose could still be true, from a certain point of view). But the point here is, few, if any people should freak out about this. In fact, more people should be glad someone has the ability to track them in the unlikely event that they get kidnapped or lost in the woods, but since it is a story with the words “Apple” and “security”, odds are we have not heard the last of this.
(Oh, and sorry about calling myself a “journalist” in the beginning).