Earlier, we covered how you can view your location data which is secretly captured by iPhone. As we have advised in the post, the best way to prevent applications from accessing the location database (i.e. consolidated.db) is to enable encryption for your iTunes backup.
But you may ask how we can prevent your iPhone or iPad from tracking you. From what we know, there is no way to disable the passive tracking. Some said you can turn off location service of the device to stop the tracking. Location service is a nice feature that lets you locate yourself on a map, geotag your photo, check-in your location in Facebook, find your iPhone, etc. By disabling the location service, you disallow any application from accessing your location. However, this won’t stop iPhone from storing your location data.
I used to set the location service to OFF for my iPhone as I seldom use it. However, as I tried out the iPhone Tracker yesterday, I was surprised the app can still display my location data. The device has collected my location data since it has been upgraded to iOS 4. That probably means iPhone or iPad 3G still keeps recording the location data, no matter you have location services enabled or not.
At first, I was not sure if my observation is correct or not. It turns out it’s true that disabling location services won’t help. Working with security researcher Ashkan Soltani, The Wall Street Journal today reported Apple’s iPhone is collecting and storing location information even when location services are turned off.
Apple and Google have both previously said that the data they receive is anonymous and that users can turn it off by disabling location services.
However, it appears that turning off location services doesn’t disable the storage of location data on iPhones. The Journal tested the collection of data on an iPhone 4 that had been restored to factory settings and was running the latest version of Apple’s iOS operating system.
The Journal disabled location services (which are on by default) and immediately recorded the data that had initially been gathered by the phone. The Journal then carried the phone to new locations and observed the data. Over the span of several hours as the phone was moved, it continued to collect location data from new places.
The data, the passive tracking stores, is not the exact coordinates gathered from the built-in GPS of the iOS device. Instead, the location is determined by triangulating against the nearest cell-phone towers.
As explained in our previous article, you shouldn’t be too worried about the tracking issue. The location data is not precise. And, so far, there is not evidence that your location data is transferred to Apple or other companies. It’s just stored on your iPhone and iTunes backup. Presumably, you’re still the owner of that data.
The location tracking issue has garnered a lot of attention these days. Since the issue was reported by the pair of researchers, Apple has been investigated by privacy regulators from countries such as South Korea, France and Italy. But I’d rather want to hear your comment. Do you think it’s a big issue for you? Do you concern about the passive tracking? Would it stop you from using the iPhone?