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Look Out for Big Brother - They're Watching You

I love to travel and I love visualizations of the places I go. I love the visualizations so much that I go out of my way to manually add all of my trips to a map using (the acquired by Nokia and now abandoned) service Dopplr. I’m actually writing this article from the Detroit airport and am on my way to Oklahoma City for the Red Dirt Ruby Conference.

Travel map

I’m not happy with Apple right now, here’s why:

I came across this article via Hacker News which basically says that iOS devices are tracking location data without consent. The story links to iPhoneTracker, an open source project by Pete Warden that visualizes the data collected by iOS devices.

I wasn’t convinced that Apple would actually collect and store such personal information without my consent, so I downloaded the application and investigated for myself, here’s what I came up with.

Map of collected location data

Based on this map, you can clearly see that I’ve been a busy traveler. Aside from the obvious: I live in New York, I work in San Francisco, and I’ve taken a few trips around the country you might wonder about that long line going from NYC to Austin? That’s from my trip on the Startup Bus.

I’m glad that I know this data exists, and a bit miffed that it was stored for all this time without me knowing. The biggest privacy concern is that the data is very accurate and timestamped. Someone snooping around on my computer would be able to easily determine where I was at a given time accurate to within a city block.

From what I’ve read, the information isn’t shared with any third parties. Not even Apple. Nonetheless, this is a major violation of user trust. I’m seriously reconsidering using Apple products for the long term. The irony is that I’m the target market for this feature and am 100% sure I would enable it if I was prompted to opt-in.

Ars Technica has an article with more details that you should check out.

If you haven’t yet enabled encrypted backups for your iPhone or iPad, now’s definitely the time to start. Two security researchers have discovered a simple way to map out where you’ve been almost anywhere in the world—without any hacking involved. The information comes from a location cache file found within your iPhone’s backups on your Mac or PC, bringing out serious privacy concerns and opening the door for a jealous spouse, thief, or even a crafty trojan to take a detailed look at your whereabouts. And it’s information that no one should have access to—not even law enforcement, barring a court order.