British security researchers have figured out that iPhones keep track of where their owners go, saving data to the device and uploading it to a user’s computer when the phone is synced with iTunes. The data includes the phone’s latitude and longitude and is time stamped to the second, all of which is recorded in a hidden file. This could theoretically be useful for anyone interested in knowing where an iPhone owner spends his or her time – advertisers, employers, spouses, parents.
Please keep in mind a snoop would need access to your phone or computer and a way to extract and refine the data. It is not sent to Apple or any third parties, as far as the researchers can tell – it’s just stored on an individual user’s devices. But it is apparently not very difficult to extract the location data from a user’s computer.
Researchers believe the location data is obtained by triangulating the phone’s position against the closest cell phone towers, which uses less battery power than GPS. It also
explains why some of the data is incorrect, as triangulation is much less precise than GPS. But the data is still alarmingly accurate, tracking your history as an iPhone owner through the months and years. Forgot that you took that trip to Boston last summer? Your iPhone didn’t.
It’s not clear how this information would be used, but there are several possible explanations, including targeted mobile advertising, synchronization for location-based
networks like FourSquare, understanding commuter habits, and so on.
There is no real way to disable this logging at the moment, though you can encrypt your data to make it harder to read once it’s synced to your computer.