How easily could someone browse the location data stored by iPhones and iPads? It turns out it's not all that difficult.
iPhones and iPads have been secretly tracking their owners every move, say security researchers, saving the resulting data to a file that’s transferred to their computer whenever the devices are synchronised.
The file contains latitude and longitude positions, and a timestamp. And it’s stored in an easily-read format, so any programs on your system, or users with access to your computer, could easily browse its contents.
How easily? It’s just a matter of downloading a small OS X application, developed by the researchers who discovered the problem, Pete Warden and Alasdair Allan. Launch the program on a system that you’ve been syncing with an iPhone (or an iPad with a cellular plan), it’ll locate the file in your /Users//Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backups/ folder, and display the positions on a map.
Some iPhone users have shrugged their shoulders over the reports, and said they’re unconcerned. Others are more worried, though, and for them, the bad news is that there’s no way to prevent this from occurring.
Disabling GPS won’t help, for instance, as Warden and Allan say that “as far as we can tell, the location is determined by triangulating against the nearest cell-phone towers”.
And while you can delete the local file, or encrypt your backups, there will still be a copy on your device.
It’s still not entirely clear exactly who is affected, though, and how much location-related data might have been recorded, so if you’re interested in the issue then it’s probably worth checking your computer to find out what it knows about your movements. Warden and Allan’s iPhone Tracker 1.0 makes this straightforward, and you can read more about this tracking in their program FAQ.