BBC BLOGS - dot.Rory
« Previous | Main | Next »

iPhone tracking: creepy or cool?

Rory Cellan-Jones | 08:50 UK time, Thursday, 21 April 2011

"Pretty creepy but also kind of cool," is how one young friend described it. He was talking about a piece of software, which looks at a file on your iPhone or iPad and then uses it to generate a map of all your movements with the phone.

The file which sits on your phone and on the computer with which it is synchronised was discovered by two security experts, Pete Warden and Alasdair Allan. They proceeded to build an application enabling iPhone users to access the file's data and then map it.

Just twelve hours after it was revealed, mapping your movements has become something of a craze. Naturally, I've tried it, and have spent some time zooming in and out of a world map, and finding out where and when I've travelled with my phone.

Map of Rory Cellan Jones' movements around the UK based on iPhone data


Map of Rory Cellan Jones' movements whilst skiing based on iPhone data

As you can see, I have criss-crossed southern England and Wales over the last year. And then there's my skiing holiday in January - you can see me landing at Chambery in Southern France and making my way to and from the slopes.

This obviously has intriguing implications for anyone who possesses one of these devices. What, for instance, if you had told your wife that you were off on a business trip - when in fact you had slipped off to the slopes with some mates - and she then managed to track down your iPhone location file? (I should stress that this is an imaginary scenario).

For divorce lawyers, particularly in the United States, the first question when taking on a new client could be "does your spouse own an iPhone?" And law enforcement agencies will also be taking a great interest in the iPhones - or iPads - of anyone they are tracking.

There has been a mixture of amusement and outrage at this news. Other researchers say they discovered this some time ago. The point is that millions of Apple customers probably didn't read that material. And some privacy campaigners are saying that Apple should have been far more open about what it was doing.

The company can however point to this clause buried somewhere in the 15,200 word iTunes terms and conditions:

"Apple and our partners and licensees may collect, use, and share precise location data, including the real-time geographic location of your Apple computer or device. This location data is collected anonymously in a form that does not personally identify you and is used by Apple and our partners and licensees to provide and improve location-based products and services. For example, we may share geographic location with application providers when you opt in to their location services."

This will still be a matter of concern to some users, so journalists have naturally been asking Apple to answer a few questions about the issue. But in its normal manner, Steve Jobs' firm has said nothing. Which you might think is pretty creepy - and not that cool.


Page 1 of 2

  • Comment number 1.

    This is scary stuff. Users of Pete Warden's great iPhoneTracker ( may save some time by extracting their consolidated.db files using the free version of the software at You can extract the file right into his app.

  • Comment number 2.

    your check-ins, your twitter time-line, your facebook wall posts, your google search results and now to cap it all, your iphone or any iOS device location file - just a question of time before some hot start up creates an app that aggregates all of this (user level meta) data (well at least the bits that are public) and serves on a dish for all and sundry - the potential use case is endless - divorce proceedings, HR reference checks, online dating it 1984?

  • Comment number 3.

    OK, so how do you get rid of, or otherwise neutralise, the file? How do they (Apple) retrieve the file; from the device or from the computer you normally synchronise with? If from the computer rather than the device and you haven't given them permission could you not sue?

  • Comment number 4.

    If you read the security experts article on it, you'll find that they have found no evidence of the data being used or shared. It really isn't that big a deal.

    If you distrust your spouse that much, you shouldn't have got married! ;-)

    PS. Isn't it the case that the phone networks record your location already through cell tower transitions?

  • Comment number 5.

    And before this gets turned into an Apple bashing exercise - Google's terms and conditions have the same thing. The only difference is they don't store them locally, but on Google's servers.

    PPS. You can stop people viewing it if you turn on Encrypt backup in iTunes (it's a checkbox on the device info page). Probably worth doing! :-)

  • Comment number 6.

    Sigh, another Apple post, man all you post about is iPhones and iPads. Not everyone uses these.
    Why don't you post about the Android and Windows 7 apps that can invade your privacy man. Groan ;)

    I bet all the Google fans will soon be posting their I told you so'.....

    I mean, Google wouldn't use your personal data would they????

  • Comment number 7.

    I'm not worried. My iphone is so poor at holding a signal I doubt they would be able to track me anyway!

  • Comment number 8.

    As far as I can tell, this is mobile tower triangulation data. Not GPS, so it is quite inaccurate. (Town accurate, but not Massage Parlour accurate).


  • Comment number 9.

    @ Bern

    Agree that is seems to be no big deal. Security researchers can't find any evidence of the data being transferred to Apple or any third party. The file is only available to users who have physical access to the iPhone or its backup file through iTunes.

    It seems the file is used to speed up location fixes when using the mobile network - storing the geolocation data for previously seen transmitters rather than having to check an online database of transmitter locations.

    Anyone concerned shouldn't have a phone in the first place - see this NY Times article ( about a German politician who managed to obtain all the location data Deutsche Telecom had stored about him. 35,000 location points in a 6-month period.

  • Comment number 10.

    I did mine. It just highlighted what a dull life I have....

  • Comment number 11.

    All GSM and GPRS devices constantly keep track off every cellsite they can see. The phone uses this to request handovers between sites while moving, and informing the network of it's preferred mast ID. Normally it doesn't store it it just uses the data in real time. If you have a list of mast ID's (once a secret but not any more) and tell the phone to store this data in you can use it to give you a rough idea of your location. This is NOT unique to apple. Any smart phone could run an app. to collect this data.

  • Comment number 12.

    Just creepy.

    It never ceases to amaze me how desensitised some people have become to wholesale invasions of privacy by the state and big business.

    I have an absolute right to privacy. My movements and actions should only be of interest to the state for the purposes of investigating a crime, and on an "as needed" basis. In other words, tracking my movements if I am suspected to have committed (or about to commit) a crime is fine. Tracking me and storing that data just in case I commit a crime in the future is not.

    Businesses have no right, whatsoever to track my movements without my explicit and informed consent. A clause buried in a 15,000 word terms and conditions document is not acceptable.

    This concept needs to be enshrined into UK Law. It should be an offence to track someone's movements without their explicit consent, and that consent should be separate and unconnected with any other terms and conditions.

  • Comment number 13.

    "And before this gets turned into an Apple bashing exercise - Google's terms and conditions have the same thing. The only difference is they don't store them locally, but on Google's servers."

    Google doesn't permanently store your location anywhere unless you specifically enable Google Latitude on your device. That is a fact, not an opinion.

  • Comment number 14.

    As the title of the article says, Creepy or Cool. I'd go with Cool, my tracks are accurate, but also strangely inaccurate. I've got data pretty much in the middle of London, a place I've not been within 50 miles from at any point in the last 20 years, but oddly very sparse data around my home, and other areas I regularly visit.

    My own, non expert, assessment of the data is that this is cell triangulation data, possibly cached for use by the assisted GPS. There are reports that all the WiFi networks the device has ever 'seen', and not just those actually connected too is also stored in there as well, but I find it far more scary that there are sites you can visit from any browser that will tell where you are based on the WiFi point you are connected with. How that actually works I have no idea, but I've found this to be pinpoint accurate!

    The only thing to 'worry' about is that this data is available in the clear, but a simple checkbox to encrypt your backup solves this problem.

  • Comment number 15.

    Interesting article from someone who appears to know what he is talking about:

  • Comment number 16.

    Yet again a reflection of the Jobs\Apple corporate culture. Years ago I used a NextStep computer. You couldn't personalise it in anyway just an Albanian colour scheme of grey on grey. When questioned the NextStep answer was basically, we know what's best for you shut up sit down and do as we tell you. That attitude seems to be alive and well with iProducts. We're Apple, We are the coolest if you wan't to join our gang shut up sit down and do as we deign to tell you.. Oh and pay over the odds for the privilege\experience as well....

  • Comment number 17.

    Every time it seems to be something wrong with Apple company or products. Not sure if they were intended or someone blame and set them up for it. But I'm sure of one thing, that with all of that success and stunning numbers from apple, they would or could eventually in the future stumble. That could be frightening.

  • Comment number 18.

    Can all the Apple defenders let us know what line Apple would have to cross before they'd stop blindly defending them ?

  • Comment number 19.

    Actually, security services and others are already using this data. Katana Forensics has a piece of software called Lantern 2.0 which forensically analyses iOS devices. Apparently it can do a lot more than just find out where you've been - it can log what wifi networks you've connected to, for example, and even in some cases bypass encryption.
    I think regular people can buy it too, but law enforcement agencies get a discount.

    Also I think there's a big difference between Apple collecting the data, and just storing it forever in plain text on the phone, not that I'm happy with them collecting it.

  • Comment number 20.

    "For divorce lawyers, particularly in the United States"

    Stay classy, BBC.

  • Comment number 21.

    Rory you missed a point on News 24, the devorce lawyers wont need to get there hands on the phone. Just the computer it has been syncd with.

  • Comment number 22.

    Yet more invasion of privacy, why am I not suprised !!!
    I have always suspected that if you buy anything supplied by an american company, you go straight on to the CIA tracking system.
    Solution, do not buy their products

  • Comment number 23.

    I have window7 and a synced Iphone4 will someone just tell me how I make this work!!!

  • Comment number 24.

    I love the civil liberties loonies. Where are you going and what are you doing that the Apple Corporation tracking you makes even a sniff of difference in your life? You were perfectly happy yesterday when you didn't know, nothing's actually changed.

  • Comment number 25.

    Er, isn't this how we can get extremely useful live traffic data on googlemaps and tomtoms etc? Why should I be bothered about this?

  • Comment number 26.

    WOW, "Security advisorys discover something already written in your terms and conditions shock!"
    This is so much of a non-story it is almost beneath contempt. Is my licence payers money really being used to tell me that the show offs that flaunt these fancy devices are too stupid to read their terms and conditions?
    This type of data capture happens with almost every device we own or use.

  • Comment number 27.

    Just as well this wasn't on a Microsoft device, as judging by some of the Apple apologists postings in this blog over the years, only MS would do evil things with the data, and the cute and cuddly Apple are only doing it for the user as a favour.

  • Comment number 28.

    From the FAQ for the App:-
    Q "Is Apple storing this information elsewhere?"
    A "There’s no evidence that it’s being transmitted beyond your device and any machines you sync it with."

    We leave a trail of data wherever we go, not just by using an iPhone. Every time you access the internet, every time you use a debit card, every time you pass an ANPR camera etc. The idea that "evil" corporations and Governments covertly use this data to "spy" on you or (worse it seems to some) manufacture new devices and products is a peculiar notion that plays to western paranoia ("trust no one") and is easy to construct a non-story from.

    The volume of data collected is enormous and the idea that there are people and systems behind the scenes knitting it all together and producing reports to institutions (covert or not) is untrue and is to misunderstand the nature and capability of IT and data and the capacity of human intelligence to make sense of it.

    Most companies can't even operate a marketing database correctly let alone sifting through this mass of data to find other insights. If anything, the real problem is that we CAN'T make use of all the things we know and use it to make the world a "better" place.

  • Comment number 29.

    Dont like apple tracking your position? TOO BAD!

    Should have read the T&C's of the use of iProducts eh?

    Noone owning and using an iphone has ANY right to complain about this! Its literally written down in black and white and you have to agree to it before you can use the iProduct in question.

    Even if you havent read the T&C's, anyone with a modicum of sense must realise the potential for marketing and advertising of a device being carried by millions of people that can track your movements using a number of different methods.

    And you thought they WOULDNT record this?

  • Comment number 30.

    I think its unhealthy that people are not more paranoid given what we know about the motives of corporations co-operating with oppressive regimes. you might think it couldn't happen here but the future can happen to us very quickly with out asking us if this is the future we want. protect your privacy at all costs because one day you might want to speak out about an injustice you experience without a the chance of a death squad visiting you in the night. better safe than sorry so lets stay off the slippery slope for as long as possible.

  • Comment number 31.

    Having looked at the program to track this, whats new? i can tell you on all recent trips, what i was doing and where i was when i was doing it AND that i agreed for my location to be used so i can use the app to it's potential. I am more concerned about google maps. (being google and not caring what a government says. about data protection and use).

    This data is being held... and? where is the proof that apple use it for commercial gain... and ONLY then will i complain - until then it's yet another case of media scaremongering AGAIN - my complaint is to the grotty little tabloid that wants to make money and distract from the fact they can phone hack who they want and think a few measly million pounds will get them off... LOCK all of them up and it's time the media GOT A LIFE! (i am currently with holding comments on the BBC as they are (or should be) a non profit organisation and don't really stand to benefit from this financially) (oh no hold on i feel the need to rush out and buy one of their documentary DVD's...

  • Comment number 32.

    dont like apple tracking your location? TOO BAD!

    you people that have one obviously failed to read the terms and conditions where it clearly states that apple may record your location.

    It also pretty much states that all of the information the phone collects is essentially the property of apple.

    Of course this is literally written down in black and white in the T&C's which you must agree to before using the phone.

    if you didnt read them, tough luck. enjoy apple plundering through your personal data.

  • Comment number 33.

    Let's get away from the cheating husband stuff. Your location history gives away a lot about you - where you work, how long, where you shop, the clubs you belong to - a pretty detailed picture of you. That's why they have gone to the trouble to store it. The possibilities for misuse are huge. The trouble is, that right now, most people will think - oh, bit creepy. But in 10 year's time - it'll be the norm and suddenly you'll get a speeding ticket based on your iPhone data, a car insurance quote will depend on submitting this data, ugh. No. The time to say no to this is now. Government - please step in and legislate against this - thanks!

  • Comment number 34.

    my bad. I posted twice.

    Moderator, would you mind deleting one or t'other of my comments? thankyou.


  • Comment number 35.

    32. ndfrose

    Just because something is in T&C doesn't make it right or legal. Any company can put whatever they like in the terms and conditions, doesn't mean they should be able to get away with it - in fact many companies already include terms which contradict the law, and when it comes down to it these terms are not enforceable.

    Of course the real issue is that we need firm laws that get rid of all the ambiguity in all this and determine what information companies like Apple and Google etc are allowed to get hold of without permission.

  • Comment number 36.

    This is sooooo cool, rad. If only I cared? My trouser are moving up my stomach and I seem to be moaning more. Has life past me by? I know, I'll buy a smartphone and life will be full and have meaning.

  • Comment number 37.


    So you're saying that this data will be used create an accurate picture of you and could be misused to prevent you from lying through your teeth and breaking the law....erm...that's bad why?

    This is what people said when CCTV was in it's infancy, now, would you really want to walk around in an inner city area without CCTV? Being able to place criminals at the scene of a crime, being able to remotely track terror suspects and see who else they are associating with, etc. The potential for good in this technology far outweighs any negative impact.

    If you're doing something that you reckon this information could be used against you, chances are you probably shouldn't be doing it anyway.

  • Comment number 38.

    It's a shame I'm not an iPhone developer. I'd make a killing in the App store by writing an application that sanitises/clears this file on a regular basis.

  • Comment number 39.

    I wasn't going to comment on this issue because I have grown tired of explaining to people why they should care about privacy issues that seem, on their own, inconsequential, but which in conjunction add up to something approaching a monster.

    However, I do take issue with the people who say "it's in the contract, stupid". There are two points I'd make in response. One, not everyone is a contract lawyer, and it's not as though companies go out of their way to make these things easy to read. Second, if a set of T&Cs stated that "By purchasing this product, you expressly and unreservedly renounce all legal claims to ownership of your house and agree to pass all titles for said house to Apple", I somehow doubt that agreement would meet the definition of a contract - which requires the evident intention on both sides to create legal relations.

    People are purchasing phones, not giving a company the right to track their every move.

  • Comment number 40.

    Looks like I got ninja'd by post 35.

    Also, post 20 made me laugh rather too loudly for an open-plan office environment.

  • Comment number 41.

    After reading this Now the simple fact is that I won't be buying an iphone.
    Under the data protection act aren't companies forced to hold only the data that is deemed necessary and for it to be secure?

    Are they getting around this by keeping it on the users device?

  • Comment number 42.

    Oh please such a non issue you use a phone that has the ability to track you accurately as one of its features and you are able to disable that if you want (but almost nobody will as its one of its most useful features)

    If you want to protect yourself encrypt your backup and keylock your phone then all is solved.

    Please remember this file is not being transmitted anywhere and is only going to you computer as part of the backup of your actual phone.

  • Comment number 43.

    One sure fire way around this is to send your iphone on holiday. That will fool them!

  • Comment number 44.

    Oh No!!!! Apple are collecting data about me!!! Is this really any worse than any website which tracks your movement across the internet via cookies and uses it to target you with adverts? I own an iPhone, an iPad, a MacBook and an iMac and to be honest I don't care what information Apple have about me, I don't feel violated, I don't feel it to be an intrusion or an invasion of privacy. Didn't Google recently get caught out trapping MAC addresses for routers during their streetview scans? I feel more threatened by that, since they were actually taking information directly from my home address.

  • Comment number 45.

    There's nothing new about collecting this data. Either for "useful" geolocation services, or for serving ads, or for law enforcement. But storing it unencrypted in a known location, which itself is synced to your other computer(s) must make it a whole lot easier for bad people to discover an oligarch's normal route to work....

  • Comment number 46.

    I wonder how much battery life would be extended if the likes of Apple didn't waste so much on activities like this which are of no benefit to the owner of the phone?

  • Comment number 47.

    Sigh everyone this is not tracking as its not a live feed it only becomes accessible at present when you sync your phone.

  • Comment number 48.

    BEGIN Rant
    SET Privacy AS Disregard to personal data rights
    SET Forced_Sales AS Fixes/upgrades only available through purchase
    SET Opinion AS Public perception

    Microsoft.Privacy == 5
    Microsoft.Forced_Sales == 10
    Microsoft.Opinion == RUN EvilCalculation

    Apple.Privacy == 10
    Apple.Forced_Sales == 8
    Apple.Opinion == RUN EvilCalculation

    Google.Privacy == 8
    Google.Forced_Sales == 0
    Google.Opinion == RUN EvilCalculation

    PRINT Microsoft.Evil
    PRINT Apple.Evil
    PRINT Google.Evil

    END Rant

    BEGIN SUB EvilCalculation
    IF Privacy + Forced_Sales >= 10 THEN
    Set Corporation == Evil
    Set Corporation == Saint

    RUN Rant
    "Microsoft is Evil"
    "Apple is Evil"
    "Google is Saint"

  • Comment number 49.


    The data is held only on the phone or on the computer you sync with. There is no evidence that it has ever been uploaded to Apple. My only concern is that the data should be encrypted, which it is not at present.

    If you are really concerned about being tracked by a mobile, simply do not use one. It's the only safe way. Although it has only become an issue since Apple devices were found to collect data, other brands do so as well. Also you might as well stop using credit, debit and store cards. Do not sign up to Facebook or any other 'social' site. These things collect your data, and actually use it.

    Don't get me wrong, I don't like things that collect personal data. However given the far more serious ways people's information is collected, and yet no big outcry, the fuss we are seeing now strikes me as being more motivated by the usual anti-Apple crowd than any rational concern about privacy. If Apple provide an update to encrypt the file that contains the data, and assures people that the data will continue to not be used to them I'd be happy with that.

  • Comment number 50.

    Sandwiches anybody?

  • Comment number 51.

    To Bern well said.
    To Abedo: The article says it is only held on the computer that the phone and the pad synch with it does not go anywhere else unlike Google, etc who store their info on you remotely.
    To MyVoiceinYrHead well said.
    If you have done nothing wrong what do you have to worry about anyway.
    How do people think the Police are able to track people's mobile use in missing persons/murder cases?

  • Comment number 52.


    "Of course the real issue is that we need firm laws that get rid of all the ambiguity in all this and determine what information companies like Apple and Google etc are allowed to get hold of without permission."

    No we dont need more laws, we need more people to be responsible for their own actions.

    If youre too moronic\lazy to read terms and conditions for a device that youre pumping personal information (credit card details, families + friends numbers, requesting your locations, personal web searches, bank details, email addresses and passwords etc) into, then you really cant be surprised that this information will be potentially recorded and utilised in one way or another.

    And your answer? more laws\red tape? I dont think so. besides the data protection act has been around for years. Apple arent doing anything illegal. yes they have personal information about you but they are just using that personal information to inform a better service (if that). they arent doing anything malicious!

    The reality of it is that amount of data could not be accurately managed in a database by any corporation... hundereds of details about x million iphone users?

    And thats being managed\utilised to "spy" on you is it? get a grip and get over it! you all live in the information age! get with the times for gods sake.

  • Comment number 53.

    Also - it simply comes down to this:

    If you dont like "Company X" collecting data on you via their products, then dont buy\stop using their products!

    quite simple really.

    theres no point buying a product that you know collects info on you, becoming outraged and then demanding a law be passed to have the data collection stopped\altered.

    thats like buying a toaster and then getting angry because *sharp intake of breath* it toasts more than just bread. Then of course demanding a law be introduced stating that said toaster should have "TOASTS MORE THAN BREAD" printed in big red letters on its side rather than in just the small print.

    Couldnt it be that youve just failed to read enough about smartphones and what they ACTUALLY do before rushing out and spending £XXX on them?

    It certainly sounds that way.

    I cant believe so many people are shocked by this.

  • Comment number 54.

    "If you have done nothing wrong, then you have nothing to worry about".

    In order to believe this statement, you must believe two things. One, that what a government says is right, is right, and what it says is wrong, is wrong. Two, that this will ever remain so. I humbly submit that if you believe either of these things, you suffer from an ignorance of ethics and history, and a failure of imagination.

    I mention this in the full knowledge that the topic is not what governments do with personal data, but what companies do.

  • Comment number 55.

    Has anyone done a similar application for Windows?

  • Comment number 56.

    My only concern is that if some one steals your phone they may have access to your daily life. if they can work out when your house will be empty then its bye bye new plasma tv...

  • Comment number 57.


    I would agree that it should be encrypted as default but you can action this in iTunes (I will now - though I'm not actually concerned about it).

    To be honest, I'd rather have my location on *MY* phone and *MY* computer than Google's servers regardless for how long they keep it!

    PS. Lessons learned from this (after looking at my map) - I need to see more of the world ;-)

  • Comment number 58.

    You only need to look at the legislation that has been passed both here and in the US over the last 10 years to understand we are hurtling toward a police state - if indeed we are not already in one which any law abiding protester who has been a victim of police kettling and other nefarious tactics would argue.
    We are under attack and it is not by the CIA invented Al Qaeda.
    Children can now be and have been molested by airport goons even as they sob but why complain - it is for their protection right?
    Noticed how everything is pre-emptive now? Pre-emptive policing, pre-emptive invasions, pre-emptive legislation.

    Technology is a double edged sword but the sharp end is hurtling down upon the neck of civil liberty and personal freedom and this is just a public example of it - if you don't understand your search engine and your ISP gather a ton of personal data on you that is accessible by the authorities for any reason they see fit or that your movements are already tracked through chip technology via various methods or that you are being secretly filmed in public locations etc then I'm afraid you are well behind the times.
    Did you know about the trend for bar coded tatoos - these people actually think it is cool and radical to play at 1984 - these people will be the first in line for Nanotech implants that will soon become available believing they are empowered and scoffing at the "technophobes".
    Limp minded hedonists who would allow direct uploads to their brains as long as it had a cool tag attached and that is a worrying trend.

  • Comment number 59.

    The iPhone is storing locations of cell towers, not the user's location. As this blogger has found out by actually examining the information, rather than parroting a third-party's blog, as has been done on the BBC:

    Would it be so hard for reporters at the BBC to carry out some fact checking before jumping on an inaccurate and sensationalistic bandwagon?

    It's proof of how lazy journalists have become when a blogger takes the time to investigate what is really going on with an iPhone, and a reporter for the BBC can't be bothered.

  • Comment number 60.

    Whether or not it's right or wrong to collect this data is negated by the fact that you must think it is right as you accepted the terms and conditions. You had to accept the terms and conditions to purchase the technology. So if you haven't accepted the terms and conditions then you have stolen your phone in which case nobody likes you because you're a phone thief.

    If you accepted terms and conditions that you didn't like then who's fault is it? And if you didn't read terms and conditions for something you were going to let handle your communications, webaccess, e-mail, photographs, video, music....(the list goes on) then who really is to blame?

    This is like the posts on Facebook saying "OMG, Facebook publishes your phone number in other peoples phonebooks..." of course they do, you told them they could.

    Have the acceptance of personal responsibility and basic literacy really become that bad in this country?

  • Comment number 61.

    Food for thought:

    Someone I know was recently burgled while she was on holiday. How did the burglers know she wasn't there? Because she posted virtually hourly reports of what she was doing on her holiday on Facebook.

    There is a huge lack of awareness about the data we give out. I would suspect a lot of the posters on here complaining about Apple's evil tactics probably also tweet their every move and post personal information on social networking sites - has anyone ever "checked in" on Facebook using their mobile phone?

    **You** decide what you do. Sadly that can mean reading T & Cs. If you are serious about your privacy, surely it's worth spending time over reading them and/or getting advice. However, as humans we make compromises and it is amazing how fast principles collapse when additional effort is called for. And then there is the burning desire to have the latest any cost.

  • Comment number 62.


    Not so simple. Google T&Cs say they collect your data and I would be amazed if Microsoft and HP's didn't do the same. The choice is going. The fact is, as you say, if you don't like it, don't use a device with GPS - or one with the ability to make a call (because then the networks can still track you) ;-)

    At least in this case your historical location data is stored locally on your device and that's ok. What we need to do is make sure it stays that way - but that is a completely separate discussion from what Apple is, in this case, doing.

  • Comment number 63.

    Some people on here - most likely Apple devotees! - seem rather relaxed about the whole issue. In my mind this is neither creepy nor cool - it is highly unethical. Bearing in mind some people seem to think the info will not be used it also seems very unnecessary - why expose yourself to criticism for no reason?!?
    The terms and conditions 'game' is becoming a joke. In contract law these large company imposed terms and conditions of use may soon be successfully challenged as they breach some of the fundamentals of establishing a legal contract. When the user's side of the contract is all about listening to music, watching video or using their IPad but the company's side imposes significant additional aspects that the consumer cannot opt out of or negotiate then the contract is challengable.
    The fundamental point is that an ethical company simply would not impose such things on a loyal customer base - APPLE SORT YOURSELVES OUT.

  • Comment number 64.

    I think this kind of data mapping is beautiful and if some people don't want it, give them a button that says diable the function.


    I've just run the app and according to the data, I seem to have been travelling up to Glossop, just outside Manchester. Someone must be cloning my phone because I haven't been there, ever.

    If/when this type of data is used against you, at least make it accurate.

  • Comment number 65.

    So many comments by people who either haven't read or don't understand the article. If you can't understand that a) Apple doesn't collect the data, it stays on your phone and b) your mobile phone provider (not Apple) collects the same data from its phone masts whether you use an Apple product or not then you probably shouldn't be allowed a mobile phone in the first place.

  • Comment number 66.

    "pretty creepy - and not that cool." - but absolutely standard for Apple under Jobs.

  • Comment number 67.

    It's largely irrelevant that this data is being collected and backed up. If I got hold of your phone I could find out exactly who you'd been calling and when.
    Of course you could get rid of the call history... but I don't believe you can get rid of the tracking history. that's the real issue here. It's something (else) you have no control over. It wouldn't be a stretch of the imagination for some miscreants to get malware on your computer, which could then access the backup for the file so that they can (for example) work out when you're likely not to be at home.
    There really should be an option to clear it rather than just encrypt it... and it should really be encrypted by default.

  • Comment number 68.

    Tea anyone?

  • Comment number 69.


    Some questions, then, for the "It's in the T&Cs" folks.

    - At what point during the sale process are you shown the operating terms and conditions when purchasing an iPhone?

    - Is it possible to purchase an iPhone without submitting to the collection of personal data?

    - In relation to the question above, do people think that it ought to be?

    - Is the collection and storage of user location data essential to the operation of an iPhone?

    - Given the ubiquity of mobile phones in today's society, would an average user when presented with the plethora of useful functionality on one hand and the personal data collection on the other:

    a) hand back their mobile phone?


    b) grudgingly swallow the invasion of privacy?

    - Is it either necessary or desirable for consumers to have to choose between luddism or a lack of privacy?

  • Comment number 70.

    So can it tell me where my sons iPhone is now, he had it taken at knifepoint on monday and I would love to go and get it back.

  • Comment number 71.

    If people are seriously so stupid as to subscribe to Apps that allow them to be tracked, I have no sympathy. They fall under the same umbrella of stupidity as those who announce on social websites that they are going on vacation for two weeks, and then wonder why their abodes have been burgled when they arrive home

  • Comment number 72.

    People who complain about the intrusion into their privacy from the internet have obviously never lived in a small close knit community. Your every move is common knowledge to the village busybodies. We now live in the Global Village.

  • Comment number 73.

    There is potentially an even bigger breach of human rights here... The right to security.
    Can apple prove beyond doubt that the employees of theirs viewing and handling this data are properly vetted.

    Lets look at a hypothetical scenario.

    You have just split up with a violent and possesive bf/gf. They however work for Apple and come across your location data.
    You find out....

    Would you feel safe?

  • Comment number 74.

    Obligatory "that's why I have a 10 year old PAYG mobile that only calls and texts. It only costs me £10 a year. I also don't use social networking sites so they can't track me (but really because I have no friends)" post.

  • Comment number 75.

    Once again Iphone users go gooie (Or GUI) looking at something Android users have been doing with latitude and controlling it. Google will show you location history on your google latitude profile. But with Android you know that its there and you can control it.

    Will this kill the shiny pebble, no the IZombies will remain faithful to their master. It needs a new unit to get an upgrade (Without jail-breaking) , its has a signal issue. You cant see what you want, it wont play flash and yet STILL the IZombies love it.......

  • Comment number 76.

    "If you have done nothing wrong, then you have nothing to worry about"

    When people say this it always sends a cold shiver down my spine.

    "55. At 15:07pm 21st Apr 2011, laterrehaute wrote:

    Has anyone done a similar application for Windows?"

    I don't think anyone owns a Windows phone do they :o)

    "68. At 16:07pm 21st Apr 2011, Jackruss wrote:

    Tea anyone?"

    Milk, no sugar please.

  • Comment number 77.

    "You signed the T&C, deal with it!"
    What if pharmaceutical companies started demanding the collection of your medical records as part of their terms and conditions?
    What if oil companies started demanding the collection of your journey routes as part of their terms and conditions?
    Would you rely on soup to get better from a deadly bacterial infection? Would you stop driving? Or would you ask a lawyer to point out the unlawfulness of their contract? As pointed out by Stephen_P, you can't negotiate these contracts and the suspect clauses have nothing to do with making a phone call.

    The case law already exists, but companies tend to continue with the inclusion of unlawful clauses to trick or scare people off of legal action. Basically, better to say sorry then ask for permission and be told no.

  • Comment number 78.

    @62: Yes i agree that, if you dont want tracked, then there is ever ecreasig choice in technology to use. My point is, this is the information age... information = money. get used to it. If you dont like it, dont use modern computing technology OR read up on how to stop your information being handed over to the corporations. there must be about a million ways to stop it from happening. you would do this if you were genuinely concerned about personal data.

    Excuses like the T&C's 'are too long' or 'too complicated to read' just dont cut it with me. These are excuses for pure laziness.

    - At what point during the sale process are you shown the operating terms and conditions when purchasing an iPhone?
    When you boot the phone for the first time, you MUST agree to apples T&C's otherwise you dont get to use the phone.

    - Is it possible to purchase an iPhone without submitting to the collection of personal data?
    No. You must agree to Apples T&C's

    - In relation to the question above, do people think that it ought to be?
    Which question?

    - Is the collection and storage of user location data essential to the operation of an iPhone?
    No. However, Apple could potentially use it to improve their customer service\technology. Also to make money.

    - Given the ubiquity of mobile phones in today's society, would an average user when presented with the plethora of useful functionality on one hand and the personal data collection on the other:

    a) hand back their mobile phone?
    Probably not given the complete lack of ability by the average user to read the T&C's. If they were genuinely concerned about privacy, they would. If they are too lazy to read them, they clearly cant care that much.


    b) grudgingly swallow the invasion of privacy?
    Probably. Im happy to hand over my location information. It helps my phone deliuver accurate, geo referenced information on demand quite frankly.

    - Is it either necessary or desirable for consumers to have to choose between luddism or a lack of privacy?
    You dont 'have to choose' between either. Dont like it? get a regular phone...dont get a smartphone! or read the terms and conditions attached to a phone for which you find agreeable.


    @71: Its not an app they are talking about here. They are talking about iOS collecting and storing location data automatically.

  • Comment number 79.

    There is a line between protection of the public and invasion of privacy but unfortunately it is not a clear one as the same data can be used to harm and protect. Thats why it's important to pressure government into implementing important legislation like The Data Protection Act and to expose companies that attempt to infringe upon our rights. There have already been some big scandals regarding personal data (like leaving it on the train), but frankly there will be much, much bigger ones over the next 20 years or so.

    Most people will be unaffected by their personal information reaching the public domain, but just because "It'll never happen to me" doesn't mean it won't happen to others. Stalkers, thieves and con artists could do a lot of harm to a few individuals by randomly picking a few people out of a database or stealing a personal device that unknowingly stores too much personal information. Thats why you should be concerned although it certainly isn't reason to be paranoid.

  • Comment number 80.

    Before people jump on the Apple hating band wagon, read this article:

    There are a lot of mis-informed people out there.

  • Comment number 81.

    I think I trust Apple, slightly more than Google and Microsoft, but that isn't saying much. The thing I like least is Apple believes it still has rights over how a physical object that I have purchased is used. Apple doesn't own my phone, it has no right to extract commericially useful data from it. Maybe its not doing it now, but it is claiming the right to do it.
    I believe google got in trouble recently for recording details on wireless, to try to connect you to a physical location by the wireless you are using or thoses that are visable. Location tracking is obviously the popular thing now.

    I think we also need to look at the terms and conditions documents that are now circulating. I got my Iphone in January, and a 15,200 word document is simply ridiculous, I am sure 0.01% of people actually read this, and the same for so many other electronic devices we purchase or software we install. I think some kind of sanity needs to be inserted in the situation - either the whole system declared null and void or they need to be vetted by some neutral source and key clauses highlighted.

  • Comment number 82.

    @81: there you go...just because its a long document, you cant be bothered to read it a 15,200 word document? well too bad. you just lost your right to complain about what apple do with your phone and iOS

    given the fact that, if you are using an apple phone, you have clearly accepted the T&C's.

    it takes 10 minutes to read people.

  • Comment number 83.

    Do you really know nothing about Google and their connection with the US government?
    Even if you want to believe there is no connection do you honestly think intelligence agencies don't use it for resource gathering?
    Ah but they only spy on those nasty terrorists don't they and all the other evil doers they keep us safe from. Surveillance could never become invasive because we have the necessary safeguards in place right?
    Or maybe it is just okay because it is, for now, passive?
    Do you honestly think mega Corporations that have huge influence on how society evolves and Government policy is no bad thing?
    Do you think the War in Iraq was about WMD's or Al Qaeda ?
    Do you really not hear and read the almost daily doublespeak and conflicting remarks coming from Cameron's mouth regarding Libya?
    And how do the media and opposition describe such blatant disinformation and propaganda? "Possible mission creep" - as if there were ever any other intentions than to overthrow Qadaffi. Humanitarian mission? please!
    Oh and if you truly want Orwellian then how about the air campaign of bombing non air to surface threats as being described as "enforcing the no fly zone" or sending extra troops to help the rebels (The same fundamentalists that are supposed to be the enemy) as being purely to advise them on how to protect civilians.
    How I would love to hear the context of that advice but we are not taking sides, no, no. It is humanitarian to bomb strafe and kill people don't you know?

    Wars, secret or otherwise, are being fought on behalf of mega Corporations whether you want to believe it or not.

    I digress but it all a part and parcel of the same insidious altering of perceptions so that people are prepared to not only accept nonsense as fact, blatant hypocrisy as humanitarian, dissention as conspiracy theory but will actually post with the pretence of authority and attempt to ridicule those that offer the facts - even before they are offered in your particular case.

    The curious thing is people will readily accept that there is tons of spyware out there and believe me when I say every PC is infected yet they simply can not, will not understand that their own Government or Mega corporations would spy on them with not necessarily have their best interests at heart or that in an authoritarian system a freedom fighter is a terrorist.

    Instead of assuming you are the voice of reason amongst a fog of conspiracy theories perhaps you should do some actual research and discover the facts to avoid coming to the asinine conclusions you so patronisingly spout as reasoned opinion.

  • Comment number 84.

    70. At 16:16pm 21st Apr 2011, Beno wrote:

    So can it tell me where my sons iPhone is now, he had it taken at knifepoint


    I don't think you're raising him up properly.

  • Comment number 85.

    Erm, I think this has been possible more or less since mobile phones started you do not need a smartphone with GPS to do this although it is more accurate. I seem to recall after the Soham murders the police were able to tell where one of the girls mobiles had been!

    I'm sure both of my phones the old Nokia and the new HTC can easily be located and tracked obvious the HTC more accurately and if I so choose automatically and visible to the world. Perhaps this is another non story written by people who do not really know their stuff just to fill column inches.

  • Comment number 86.

    IS this only pertinant to iPhone and iPad, what about iTouch/iPods?

  • Comment number 87.

    Mucky - which of my three comments sparked that response? Comment 48 was poking fun at "I love Apple, I hate Microsoft, Google is brilliant" type remarks and wasn't a serious suggestion that any of those corporations are strictly "Evil" or "Saints", Comment 77 is about contract law which I can provide the case reference in a couple of hours when I have access to my law books, and Comment 79 was basically saying that I believe we should continue to pressurize MPs to protect our privacy rights concerning data protection, but that the overall situation isn't completely 1984.

    For the record, I don't own any Apple products because I dislike their like of customisability. I use Microsoft, but am well aware of the problems I get with that choice. I use many google services and some social networking sites but try to restrict my data to the best of my ability. And finally, I don't approve of the police state and was against many policies like the ID card.

  • Comment number 88.

    Google Android people needn't feel left out... install Latitude and the Google Dashboard will give you a fantastic report of everywhere you've been. Mine has everything for several months ranging from all the flights I've taken right down to careful detail of my trips to Tesco. There are several colourful graphs showing how much time you spent at home, how much at the office, and so on. I can't make my mind up on the "creepy or cool?" question either.

  • Comment number 89.

    Like a restrospective sat-nav, I suppose. Satnav tells you how to get where you want to go, even if you didn't know it at the time, iPhone tells everyone where you've been, even if you didn't know it at the time.

  • Comment number 90.

    iphone tracking creepy indeed and government should stop it at once :( how dare they ..

  • Comment number 91.

    This is not exclusive to Apple is it. It is true of any mobile device so it is entirely wrong to just focus on Apple. In the end the whole mobile and internet set up is robbing you of all privacy and no amount of law making is going to change that. If you don't like it then you have to get off the grid.

  • Comment number 92.

    i think people should stop buying/using any aparatus etc that is intrusive :( i was waiting for the new iphone but will now not be getting it, i don't particularly like this much intrusion in my life, how dare they?? who are those people doing this? are they working for the government? why do they think they need to spy on us? i have had it with this behavour from the biggies

  • Comment number 93.

    OK, so how do you get rid of, or otherwise neutralise, the file? How do they (Apple) retrieve the file; from the device or from the computer you normally synchronise with

    Don't buy an iPhone/Apple device, don't synchronise your phone with your computer, don't post every last detail of your existence on the internet (twit err (ye not), facilebook, etc). Don't make it soo easy for them...

  • Comment number 94.

    15,200 word contract, and you have to read it on an i-phone. The average proof reading speed on a monitor is 180 words a minute, so on a small screen it must be slower. Even at 180 words a minute that is 84 minutes; how many people have read that.

  • Comment number 95.

    If you have to agree to the T&Cs before buying an i* then it follows that each Apple store must have a copy of the T&Cs available - simply ask to read it, spend a few hours skimming through and decide against it. If you can back it up with a letter to a manager expressing your concerns then even better.

    T&Cs of almost everything in the modern world are classic examples of information overload. The extract Rory has posted is 76 words from 15200 words, or 0.5% and it's likely the clause is to be found in the middle. To comprehend that much text a lot of people will skim read and it would be easy to miss that part. Pure information overload and deliberate attempts to confuse, exhaust and browbeat the reader into agreeing to them.

    Apple have come off worse than google in this in part due to there being more iPhones, in part due to media hype regarding Apple (including Rory here) and lastly because Apple have long been known as controlling overlord figures. Android is open source, you can build your own OS without it whereas Apple have a very much "we know what's best so suck it" approach - remember the iPhone alarm glitch, known at least from when the clocks went back last year? They had six months to fix it and they haven't bothered (to date I assume). Apple have the feeling of an overbearing parent determined to protect a child to the point of smothering them.

    Then again the legion of iZombies will soon think an idea is an electronic mammal

    @BBC: Any chance of making the text box bigger or the page wider, I must only be using about half my screen width of 1440 pixels.

  • Comment number 96.


    If your son had registered with the free mobileme "findmyiphone" service Apple provide, then yes you could determine the current location of the phone, as well as sending it a text and remotely wiping it. I assume from your question however that he did not, in which case no there is no way of you finding the phone.

    And as to the original topic, yes this is creepy, but not surprising. What I do find surprising is that there is apparently no evidence of Apple harvesting this data - I'm afraid I had always assumed that given all smartphones had the ability to collect this stuff, they were inevitably sending it back to the manufacturer/service provider. I'm actually rather heartened to discover that there is no evidence (thus far) of Apple doing this....

  • Comment number 97.

    '35. At 13:47pm 21st Apr 2011, jizzlingtons

    Just because something is in T&C doesn't make it right or legal. Any company can put whatever they like in the terms and conditions, doesn't mean they should be able to get away with it - in fact many companies already include terms which contradict the law, and when it comes down to it these terms are not enforceable.'

    Side-T, as it is about phones but more on contracts and t&cs...

    Bearing in mind media excitements and vast police commitments over 'listening in', and now this on tracking, I wonder when the tangible, financially-crippling mafia-like abuses of the telecoms sector on 'contracts' (vast, unadvised time periods, unreminded roll-overs, etc) might be addressed.

    Such as this bunch...

    So far, otelo, OFCOM and even my MP say it's terrible, 'but there's nothing they can do'. Er... why?

  • Comment number 98.

    Having looked at the my mapping it is clear that it is not sufficiently accurate for many of the privacy issues being suggested to be of any real concern. Overall I think it's rather cool but then I not particularly paranoid and I am sufficiently ordinary not to have much in the way of secrets worth knowing.

    iPhones and iPads offer the facility to encrypt the backup (which is where the "consolidated.db" file is stored) does this make it harder/impossible for someone else to access?

  • Comment number 99.

    What a non-story: all phones, whether Apple or not, track your location: it's a necessary function of most of the apps! You want to be able to find your nearest Starbucks, but you don't want your phone to determine your location?? Impossible to have both! Most apps simply won't work unless your phone collects this data. Also, Apple aren't harvesting the data at all, it's just a log collected by your phone.

    This sounds very much like an attempt at some anti-Apple scaremongering, whipping up some misplaced "outrage", playing on the non-technically minded's fears about Big Brother watching them.

  • Comment number 100.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


Page 1 of 2

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.