There’s been a lot of hullaballoo surrounding researchers Pete Warden and Alasdair Allan’s report of an iPhone file that keeps time-stamped location data.
But the takeaway from this story, really, is not that the iPhone can track you. It’s that the file with that data is unencrypted. That means that, should your iDevice fall into the wrong hands, the information can be easily extracted.
If you’re worried, here’s how to encrypt the file:
1) Connect your device to iTunes and select it from the devices menu
2) Scroll to the bottom of the page and select “Encrypt iPhone backup” or “Encrypt iPad backup.”
3) Set a password that will decrypt your backups.
Encrypting the file won’t stop the data from being logged, but it will protect it.
This story has touched a lot of raw nerves, even though a lot of people don’t have issues with being tracked. Any subscriber to Foursquare or a location-based deals service is, in fact, actively looking to be tracked, and users actually agree to location-tracking in Apple’s terms and conditions, as CNET pointed out.
Apple hasn’t been hiding this information, either: The Wall Street Journal reminded us of that fact Thursday, when it reported that Apple told Congress last year that it collects data for location-based services. That report found Google and its Android platform also collect location data.
In fact, it surfaced Thursday that Alex Levinson, a forensics researcher in New York, had previously published research on the file and that this particular file has already been used for law enforcement and commercial purposes. On Friday, Warden apologized for overlooking and failing to cite Levinson’s work.
So the file isn’t new or secret, but was probably a surprise to those of us who don’t keep a close eye on academic research.
Now that the report’s been widely circulated, more iPhone and iPad users have a little control over the situation. And if you want more answers, don’t worry: So do a few influential lawmakers.
Something tells me Apple will be explaining itself, and soon.