Two researchers from the UK have developed a free tool to sift through Appleâ€™s hidden location data stored on devices running iOS 4, The data, triangulated location data taken from cell site locks is stored on an invisible database on the device and is synced every time an iOS device is connected to a computer running iTunes.
The type of location data being logged on iOS 4 is nearly identical to the location data kept by carriers that is useful to law enforcement and other first responders, both from a safety as well as a legal standpoint. Once installed, the tool developed by former Apple employees interprets the location data down by location, hour, minute, second and rough estimates of coordinates. The tool is artificially constrained as to not reveal exact locations. Since the data relies on triangulation and not the GPS transceiver, the data is not as precise, but is still accurate enough to deduce general location based on the exact time listed.
As expected, privacy concerns are being raised since no one knows exactly why Apple is storing such information on the device and how itâ€™s being utilized. Though the location data is not being transmitted directly from the iOS device, daily synching and backups to desktops leave the data vulnerable to malicious activity. It should be noted that such concerns were previously raised by other security researchers in the past year, but this marks the first time that a tool has been made available for the general public to interpret such information.
Apple has made inroads into location-based services ever since the launch of the original iPhone, first with Google-developed Maps, then its own location stack in CoreLocation, used for everything from iAds, Maps, and image/video geotagging. With this latest development, it remains to be seen how Apple will react following yet another successful quarter in terms of sales, especially as Apple makes no explicit mention of such logging anywhere in its literature for its iOS series of devices. Many are also questioning the necessity and safety of such data being stored directly on the device in such a way that it can be easily manipulated, leading many to assume the worst from Apple.