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This blog covers the culture of, on and around the Web. We consider ourselves curators of the moments when pop culture intersects with virtual trends.

April 21, 2011 at 12:36 PM

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Apple iPhone, iPad storing location data: Are you concerned?

Posted by Stephanie Clary

Programmers Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden, in the above video, found that 3G-enabled Apple iPhone 4s and iPads store a user's location history in a file on their devices, igniting tech privacy discussions, specifically around smartphones.

From The Associated Press:

The most recent dust-up ... raises questions about how much privacy consumers surrender by carrying around a smartphone and the responsibility of the smartphone makers to protect sensitive data that flows through their devices.

There's nothing implying that Apple itself is doing anything with this data, instead a user's location history is stored in a file called consolidated.db, which regularly collects GPS information. It can also be saved on a computer when a user syncs an Apple device with iTunes.

Allan and Warden presented a visualization of this location tracking at the Where 2.0 conference. Here's an app that Warden built to map stored location data, should you want to try to view your own history.

The programmers' concern is why Apple is storing the information to begin with, and the company's intentions.

The New York Times' Nick Bilton points out the complexities of this debate:

A cellphone owner's location information has always been stored by cellular carriers, but has been available in the past only through a court order approved by a judge. Making the file visible and unencrypted on iOS devices could make it available to anyone who gains access to the phone.

And Engadget notes that the Apple privacy policy makes clear it may use your location data. Also, the blog clarifies that the location being stored is an approximation — it's the location of the tower your device is communicating with.

Somewhat related to this concern over privacy is how popular location applications, such as Foursquare and Facebook's Places, allow cellphone users to voluntarily give up their specific location. Foursquare can map your history, and both allow users to push out their location across their social media streams. The apps are used as a way to tell friends where you are, whether to meetup, brag or just note your own location history.

With this information about iPhones storing location history and the conflicting trend of some social media users wanting people to know where they are, are you concerned about the data Apple devices collect?

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