Yesterday, we reported that the iPhone was logging location data and according to reports law enforcement agencies have known for a year that the iPhone or iPad records the owners location in a very detailed manner. They have been using the geolocation data to aid criminal investigations.
Apple have never published this undocumented feature which is buried deep within the software. It has received a lot of criticism after a researcher at a conference in California described how it all works. Apple have acknowledged to Congress last year that only ‘cell tower and wifi access point information’ is ‘intermittently’ collected and ‘transmitted to Apple’ every 12 hours.
A Swedish programmer, Magnus Eriksson told CNET that Android phones also store location information, but for a shorter period of time. Updated research by another analyst suggests that almost all Android handsets send coordinates back to Google.
Location logs are a hot topic of conversation, and computer forensics specialists have been using cell tower coordinates and time stamps to record and analyse a persons travelling history. They have also become a valuable sales pitch when targeting customers in the military and police.
There are companies already offering services, such as Forensic Telecommunications Services Ltd in the UK who advertise their IXAM product as being able to ‘extract GPS location fixes’ from an iPhone 3GS, including ‘latitude, altitude and time’. Their literature says “These are confirmed fixes–they prove that the device was definitely in that location at that time.”
Rep. Ed Markey, the Massachusetts Democrat, wrote a letter to Apple CEO Steve Jobs asking questions about the information gathering process. He wants to know if the logs can be turned off. Markey also suggests that the practice could be violating federal privacy law 47 USC 222.
Levison of Katana Forensics said “”I don’t buy the argument that Apple dropped the ball on the data being there, that the programmer forgot” to delete old locations”.
KitGuru says: It could be useful in certain circumstances, but have Apple breached privacy laws?