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iPhone 4 Tracking Brouhaha

Yesterday, a pair of security researchers (Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden) announced the discovery that the iPhone 4 and iPad 3G are regularly recording the position of the device to a hidden consolidated.db cache file.  Their "discovery" spawned a whirlwind of controversy, including this morning's news of a letter sent to Apple CEO Steve Jobs by Senator Al Franken (D-MN).

Today, network security and forensics expert Alex Levinson stepped forward to explain that the hidden consolidated.db cache file is neither new nor secret.  In fact, the existence of the file was mentioned in iOS Forensic Analysis: for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, a book to which Levinson was a contributor.  The book was released on December 5, 2010.

For me, it's much ado about nothing.  Anyone carrying any sort of mobile phone can be tracked by their mobile provider.  I guess if I was engaged in criminal activity or I was cheating on my spouse, I might have more reason to be concerned.  But the moment I started carrying a mobile device that relies on cellular towers or WiFi hotspots, and features a GPS chip to determine its position, it was pretty easy to figure out that my movements could be tracked.

By the way, Android OS device owners should take note that their devices are tracking position into a similar cache file.  Though, it appears the Android OS does not keep a very long record.

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Reader Comments (2)

A point that I believe has been overlooked, is that Apple hasn't told anyone about this "feature". Sure, we Android folks can run an app called "Latitude" which will track those people who ALLOW us this ability.

And I can appreciate the fact that Alex Levinson penned a tome where he supposedly mentioned this, but his $50 book never made the best seller list, especially with it's totally electrical engineer sounding title. I surely didn't rush out and buy it, nor do I know anyone who did.

Knowing that this "feature" existed several months ago is certainly no defense today. And why didn't Levinson publicize his discovery when the book came out, surely it would have increased sales then. Was it some sort of Apple/Verizon conspiracy to not thwart the cell giant's debut of the phone? Inquiring minds want to know....

I wonder why all the news media is jumping on this story today? Maybe they're feeling betrayed by Apple. And why hasn't Apple been forthcoming with their explanation yet? They've been totally tight-lipped with an explanation. Is this stonewalling? Maybe their too busy quickly retooling their iPhone 5's!

Surely someone will have to be honest and say, "Hey, that ain't right!" Even if it means taking a little shine off of Apple's luster.

April 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRainer

Rainer, There's nothing "supposed" about Levinson's mention. If you take just a few moments to actually click over and read the appropriate link, you'll see all the proof you need.

And what reason would Levinson have for "publicizing" his discovery? It would only increase sales of his book if he had made it out to be something sinister and evil. It is obvious that, in good conscience, he couldn't do that because he doesn't feel it is a big deal.

Remember, in order for anyone to make use of the data in that cache file, they have to obtain the cache file. There are only two ways to obtain that file, from the phone itself, or from the backup of the phone on your computer.

1) I encrypt my backups on my computer. This is a setting in iTunes and iTunes does it automatically when I sync and backup my iPhone.

2) I password protect my iPhone and, on the remote chance that I should lose it or is stolen, all I have to do is get to a nearby computer and I can remotely wipe the data from the iPhone.

It's not a big deal, except to those anti-Apple fanatics that want to find any and every excuse to dump on the most successful company in America.

As for Apple, they've never been quick to respond to these types of stories. It took them nearly a week to respond to Consumer Report's 'antennagate' article. Perhaps if this story approaches those proportions, we'll hear something from Apple. But don't hold your breath.

In the meantime, Apple's Mac sales are up 25% while PC sales are stagnant, the iTunes store made $1.4 billion in the last quarter, and iPad 2 continues to be the all-time hottest product in the tech world. Apple sure as hell is doing something right.

April 21, 2011 | Registered CommenterMark

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