The most recent Apple scandal - which is already being called "Locationgate
" - has been raging on this and other sites since it was revealed yesterday. If you're coming to this late: Apple is storing all of your location history on an unencrypted file on your iPhone that is backed up to your computer every time you sync. The reasons for this are unclear, as Apple is giving the world its usual silent treatment. But, as Phillip noted yesterday,
developers have put together a Mac app that lets you browse that data on an interactive map, and the angry reaction has spread to Capitol Hill, as Mike told us earlier today
As the devs Alasdair @aallan Allan and Pete @petewarden Warden explain
, there's a file in every backup saved on your machine when you sync that stores every location you've ever visited in an SQL database. Once they figured out how to locate that file, they wrote a slick little app that parsed the data and used the very awesome OpenStreetMap tiles created by volunteers (who totally deserve your support)
to display every place you've ever been with your iPhone. Except not really: rather than your exact GPS location, it appears to show the location of the towers your phone has connected to. This could explain why my map shows me in Glens Falls, New York, a place I've never been (honest, honey!): towers there cover an area including part of rural Vermont, where we often go on the weekends.
So, is it a big deal?
No and yes, really. This is not new news: we noted the change in Apple's terms and conditions almost a year ago
that gave the company rights to not only gather our location data but share it with whoever they wanted. Most users (including this one) blindly clicked "Agree," though it's not like we had that much of an alternative. However, everyone did pretty much assume that Apple was keeping close control of the data, rather than storing it on millions of unsecured end-user Macs, and so the potential privacy issue is real.
Why did they do it? Very well-connected blogger Jon Gruber claims the "little birdies
" inside Apple are telling him it was an "oversight," which if true is almost worse than Apple being secretive: the existence of this file was known to forensics researchers since late last year
. So this is not only a PR problem, but potentially a significant quality-control FAIL on Apple's part; until the inevitable patch comes to remove or encrypt the file, grab a hold of @rpetrich's untrackerd
Source: Andy Ihnatko