Research released today by Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden has shown that both the iPhone and 3G iPad have been storing location data of where the devices have been. The researches put together a Mac app titled ‘iPhone Tracker‘ which displays the data and makes it look pretty.
Many people do have one or two security concerns around this, such as why it exists and what Apple plans to do with it. Supposedly none of the data is going back to Apple currently. Personally, I’m not so bothered about this, when I’m out and about I generally add geolocation data to my Tweets and regularly check-in to places on Foursquare, it would be nice to have known about it though. No one likes companies keeping secrets.
All iPhones appear to log your location to a file called “consolidated.db.” This contains latitude-longitude coordinates along with a timestamp. The coordinates aren’t always exact, but they are pretty detailed. There can be tens of thousands of data points in this file, and it appears the collection started with iOS 4, so there’s typically around a year’s worth of information at this point. Our best guess is that the location is determined by cell-tower triangulation, and the timing of the recording is erratic, with a widely varying frequency of updates that may be triggered by traveling between cells or activity on the phone itself.
Interestingly, this information isn’t new, Christopher Vance, computer forensics researcher, found the consolidated.db back in September 2010 [update in Feb '11], however this does show that without showing the data in an attractive way, and a way that everyone can see, you won’t be the one to get the credit.
Some people, such as Mike Rawlins say that his phone has data for places he has never been. However, this is not the case for me, I have been to all the places the app says I have, though it is far from entirely accurate. I like data, and the “lifestream” idea, though we’ll see what Apple has to say about why it is there.
My travels since last summer: