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Entries in tracking (4)

Monday
May092011

iFixIt Tears Down FBI Tracking Device

The cool folks at iFixIt got their hands on an FBI car-tracking device.  What did they do?  Tore it down and documented it, of course.

Tracking Device Teardown

The long tube is the battery pack. It holds four lithium-thionyl chloride D-cell batteries.  The service life is rated at 10 to 20 years!  You won't find those batteries at your local Radio Shack!

Wednesday
Apr272011

Apple Q&A On Location Data

Apple Inc. has published their response to the growing controversy over the recording of iPhone user location.

Why is Apple tracking the location of my iPhone? 
Apple is not tracking the location of your iPhone. Apple has never done so and has no plans to ever do so.

Apple goes on to explain why there is a need for a location database.

Why is my iPhone logging my location? 
The iPhone is not logging your location. Rather, it’s maintaining a database of Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers around your current location, some of which may be located more than one hundred miles away from your iPhone, to help your iPhone rapidly and accurately calculate its location when requested. Calculating a phone’s location using just GPS satellite data can take up to several minutes. iPhone can reduce this time to just a few seconds by using Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data to quickly find GPS satellites, and even triangulate its location using just Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data when GPS is not available (such as indoors or in basements). These calculations are performed live on the iPhone using a crowd-sourced database of Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data that is generated by tens of millions of iPhones sending the geo-tagged locations of nearby Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers in an anonymous and encrypted form to Apple.

The document also explains that a software bug is responsible for the location database cache file being updated when a user has turned off Location Services in their iPhone settings.  Apple states they will be releasing a software update in the next few weeks that will address this, plus a couple of other issues.

  • reduces the size of the crowd-sourced Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower database cached on the iPhone,
  • ceases backing up this cache, and
  • deletes this cache entirely when Location Services is turned off. 

Apple ends the document stating that, in the next major iOS update, the cache will also be encrypted on the iPhone.

Monday
Apr252011

Apple Gets Sued (yes, again!)

Bloomberg is reporting that a lawsuit has been filed against Apple Inc. in Federal court claiming invasion of privacy and computer fraud over Apple's alleged recording of the movements of iPhone and iPad users.

The complaint cited a report last week by two computer programmers claiming that Apple’s iOS4 operating system is logging latitude-longitude coordinates along with the time a spot is visited. The programmers said Apple devices are collecting about a year’s worth of location data. Apple hasn’t commented on the matter since the April 20 report was released.

The attorneys for the two named plaintiffs, Vikram Ajjampur and William Devito, are apparently seeking class-action status for the lawsuit.

It is important to note that, so far, there has been no proof or demonstration that Apple is "collecting" any of this location data.  All that has been demonstrated is that the location data is stored on a user's iPhone or iPad and that the data gets copied to the user's computer when he or she syncs their iPhone or iPad for updates and backup.  Nowhere has anyone proven that a single bit of that data gets transmitted to Apple or to any other party.

Until such time as there is some form of proof that Apple is both collecting the location data to their servers and using that data in a manner that allows them to personally identify a specific user, then my opinion is this lawsuit is meritless and a waste of the court's time.

Thursday
Apr212011

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.