Are iPhones Tracking You?

By Thomas Fehn


Owners of the iPhone have the ability to check their e-mail, update their statuses on Facebook, and tweet on Twitter. They can even set their ovens that are on a network to their baking. The iPhone also knows every single move the owner has made since purchasing the phone.

The phone has all of your information. According to some, maybe too much. Apparently now, the phone leaves a trace of where the sender has been.

Two programmers have discovered a hidden file on the Apple iPhone and iPad that keeps tabs on where the phone has been and when it was there.

The file is called “consolidated db” and stores the date on the 3G devices when they are synced to a computer. The location information is then copied to a machine’s hard drive, according to Pete Warden and Alasdair Allan, who are both programmers who blog regularly for O’Reilly Radar. Warden and Allan shared the info at the Where 2.0 tech conference in San Francisco.

This recent revelation has a lot of iPhone and iPad users concerned that their private information could stumble into the wrong hands, but the pair of programmers says there is no reason to panic, not yet at least.

“There’s no immediate harm that would seem to come from the availability of this data,” Allan wrote in a recent post on O’Reilly Radar. “There is also no evidence to suggest this data is leaving your custody and going to someone else.”

The only key question that needs to be answered from Apple is why the data is being stored and what if anything Apple plans to do with the stored data.

“People have a right to know if any of their personal information is going somewhere as average technology users gets nervous when they hear something could happen to any of their information, and might avoid future products if they feel they are somehow in any danger of losing important information,” blogs Warden.

Warden, a former Apple employee, has built a free online application named iPhone Tracker that grabs the date and maps out where the device checked in. The app demonstrates just how easily the data can be accessed by anyone who uses the user’s computer and how easily it could fall into the wrong hands.

“All cell phone companies like AT&T and Verizon have always had the ability to gain this information but it would take a court order for them to retrieve it and be able to use it,” commented Allan.

Even Congress has begun to get involved into this debate.

Senator Al Franken (D-Minn) who has always pressed the issue regarding Internet privacy, sent a letter to Steve Jobs regarding this new information.

“The recent existence of this information of data being stored in an unencrypted format raises serious privacy concerns,” Franken said. “The data could be used by criminals to exploit children and others.”

Franken also questioned Jobs about whether the same location data tracking was a feature on other Apple devices like


Franken isn’t the only political member involved as Democrat Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash) a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, slammed the findings in a statement.

“I intend to ask Apple and the federal agencies charged with oversight some very direct questions to understand the frequency and extent of this data collection and the use, protection and sharing of this sensitive information,” Inslee said.

“This episode and many others illustrate the need for enhanced government oversight of data collection activities.”

For those worried about their information being hacked, Allan and Warden recommend encrypting your backups through simple changes in iTunes settings.