No Matter Where You Go, There Your iPhone Is

Why, yes, my iPhone has indeed been tracking me since last summer.

Following an intriguing link at The Other McCain and doing a little tinkering, I was able to discover that, yes, my iPhone has indeed been tracking me since last summer. iOS 4 added a CellLocation database to the undercarriage of the phone’s systems. Using a couple of tools (see below), I was able to extract and visualize the data my phone’s been storing about me.

Here’s a satellite view of everywhere I’ve been for the last several months:

Nothing that worries me can be gleaned from that image. I’d already publicly posted about the two trips I’ve made during the time period covered by the 1,000 most recent data points displayed here. But one could indeed learn privacy-impacting information about me from the ground-level view: Where I work, where my SO and I live, other places I spend my free time. A bit unsettling, even if there’s no evidence Apple’s ever collected this data. [UPDATE: Apparently they do, but in anonymous form so as to build their own location database.]

If, like me, you find yourself curious about how your iPhone’s been tracking your movements, here’s how to find out:

  1. Download iphonebackupextractor.
  2. Extract and run it.
  3. Click expert mode and extract the file “consolidated.db” (located in Library/Caches/locationd) to a convenient directory on your hard drive.
  4. Upload consolidated.db to Paul Courbis’ handy map tool (scroll to bottom).
  5. Drag the results west across the Atlantic (assuming you’re not in France) and zoom in and out to taste.

Interesting. But creepy.

UPDATE: BTW, if you want to protect yourself from casual access to this data (on your phone or computer), turn on Encrypt iPhone Backup in iTunes.

FILED UNDER: Privacy, Science & Technology
Dodd Harris
About Dodd Harris
Dodd, who used to run a blog named ipse dixit, is an attorney, a veteran of the United States Navy, and a fairly good poker player. He contributed over 650 pieces to OTB between May 2007 and September 2013. Follow him on Twitter @Amuk3.

Comments

  1. I’m still amused that so many think Microsoft is evil. Vaguely incompetent, sure, but evil? They are at best a lagging third to Apple and Google.

  2. matt says:

    Lagging behind apple for sure but I’m not so sure about Google..

  3. Franklin says:

    While I like privacy, I’m pretty sure Verizon can easily find my 6-year-old phone as well anytime they like. They may not be recording it, but your proximity to cell phone towers is a dead giveaway.

    If you don’t want to be found, take the battery out.

  4. matt says:

    Yeah they can easily triangulate your rough position based off your cell phone tower hits alone..

  5. Mithras says:

    Thanks for the tech tip, Dodd.

    Amusingly, my data was completely wrong. It had me in the right place generally, but at specific locations and times I was definitely not. For example, it showed me at about a dozen different locations in Philadelphia spread out over 20 square miles between 3:30 and 3:32 a.m. today. My phone was off and I was definitely stationary at that time.