Apple is storing a detailed – unencrypted – summary of where its iPhone and iPads travel, according to a study released this week. The researchers published their findings on the O’Reilly Radar on Wednesday:
Ever since iOS 4 arrived, your device has been storing a long list of locations and time stamps. We’re not sure why Apple is gathering this data, but it’s clearly intentional, as the database is being restored across backups, and even device migrations.
While cell phone companies have always possessed such data, the authors point out, the intentional creation of a specific, unprotected file sitting on the mobile device has caused a stir among the media and politicians.
Congress, which has aggressively pursued the topic of consumer privacy for a digital age in recent months, is not happy about the news. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) and Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) have all publicly criticized Apple following the news. Politico reports that the FTC is looking into the matter as well.
The Wall Street Journal has conducted an investigation into the matter as well and found that Google’s Android platform transmits such data even more frequently than Apple does, reading the location every few seconds and sending it several times each hour. The Journal points to the reason behind such tracking: geotargeting.
Google and Apple are gathering location information as part of their race to build massive databases capable of pinpointing people’s locations via their cellphones. These databases could help them tap the $2.9 billion market for location-based services—expected to rise to $8.3 billion in 2014, according to research firm Gartner Inc.
Apple also answered some questions related to its collection of mobile location data by Congress last year. Read it here.