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April 21st, 2011
10:50 PM ET

iPhone: My pocket spy

How does it feel to know that your every movement for the last nine months has been tracked and recorded? You'd think that the revelation that the iPhone (and iPad 3G) is secretly storing your whereabouts would unnerve me. That it's not is a sign of how the old barriers protecting your privacy don't exist anymore.

Don't get me wrong: This is a serious privacy breach. Suddenly, there's a way for anyone to know exactly where you go and when you go there, virtually revealing your daily routine instantly. The possibilities for misuse are endless.

Still, the first thing I thought when I saw it was: How can I try it? (On myself, of course.)

The Mac application is virtually idiot-proof; it automatically scans for the location file and then displays a map with a whole bunch of circles, representing the cell sites you were connected to. Here's a part of the map showing my travels in Tokyo.

The map shows me at Narita airport. When I zoomed in on the dark blue cluster in central Tokyo, it shows me going from my hotel in Roppongi Hills to hunting for a Pancake Milkshake in Ginza to geeking out in Akihabara. It shows me visiting a convention center for the Tokyo Game Show. I have no idea what the cluster of red circles in the middle are, but everything else is accurate.

I've been asked several times why I was comfortable with showing my location information on air. (I was prepared to show my Hong Kong map too, but we felt the Tokyo map was easier to follow visually.) The answer is simple: I already broadcast my location. My tweets are usually geo-tagged, and I check in everywhere on foursquare.

Not everyone is like me, of course. But we live in an age where everyone has a phone in their pocket, almost all of those phones have cameras, almost all of those phones have the ability to upload pictures, and almost all of those phones have access to Facebook. Within seconds of you doing something you probably shouldn't have at a party, a picture illustrating your (hypothetical) ill deed can be online for the world to see, comment on, and Like.

Technology's constant march to speed up your ability to share information means your digital identity is always a step ahead of you. You can try as hard as you can to contain it, but controlling it is virtually impossible. So I choose to embrace it, and let information run free.

Still, I'm not sure how I'd feel if everyone knew just how often I visit Hong Kong Disneyland...

soundoff (43 Responses)
  1. Keyser Soze

    This whole article misses the mark.

    What should be discussed is that the FBI/CIA track your location without warrants because they have their authority through the Patriot Act. Some of these agents even moonlight for a terrorist organization called "Egenekon" and sell that information collected on Americans with Armenian heritage.

    Egenekon is a state sponsored terrorist organization closely affiliated with the Taliban and Al Queda aka "Mujahadeen."

    These are the kinds of things that take the fiction novel "1984" and turn it into reality.

    April 21, 2011 at 11:56 pm | Reply
  2. Marcel Wiedenbrugge

    This is a piece of crappy journalism. It´s not about the fact that we should live with the fact that our moves can be traced all the time, but it´s the about the fact that we buy a phone to for other reasons than being tracked and traced. The data are stored in an insecure way, which means they are accessible by others who have nothing to do with where I have been. I consider this an utter breach of privacy, not that someone is reading this file, but the fact others relatively easy can. That´s the real problem with this ´sure, everybody may know where I am´.

    Besides, this kind of ´functionality´ should be mentioned in the manual before you start to use your phone. I use a phone to call, make notes, make pictures, make appointments and other obvious tasks, not to track my whereabouts. I consider this hidden functionality a breach of privacy and the fact that Apple so far did not respond to it makes things only worse. People have no idea, what modern technology (professional software) is already capable of, so with all this terrorism nonsense the truth behind all this already starts to stink.

    I think Apple will lose a lot of goodwill (and rightfully so, unless they come up with a very good explanation).

    April 22, 2011 at 2:00 am | Reply
  3. Reza

    Did I read it wrong or you are saying that is ok for a company that sell me my mobile phone to keep track of my every move without my consent?

    And in a totally unrelated question: Does CNN has some kind of business interest in Apple?

    April 22, 2011 at 2:41 am | Reply
    • Mae

      The mcaporison to the iPhone is just not right here at all. Shouldnt be a mcaporison because they are two different phones. the iphone lacks too many things and is making a killing on the touch interface . nokia did not copy the iphone on the 8gb, it was a business decision on the n95 series to mint money by changing it here and there. there are about 3 versions or so of it and each one made them money. i myself had the original and then the US n95 and now the 8gb. the 8gb has never given me any problems at all with wifi or anything else. the camera is awesome. the features i need to hook it up to facebook and listen to my music without worrying about the battery are just amazing. reviews on other sites just dont compare phones and see the good and the bad . its a review meaning a user experiance .anyho the n95 8gb by far, is a better phone and device than the iphone including the new one !

      March 3, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Reply
    • Micheal

      with 30 Day Warranty (Wireless Phone Accessory) I had a Blackeberry 8330 with Alltel, when Alltel in AZ was buhogt by AT&T I left Alltel and went with Verizon, buhogt the Palm Pixi Plus. I went with Palm because they have an outstanding WebOS. The Palm Pixi Plus is cumbersome, when my husband dropped his Palm 6 inches onto carpet and the screen spidered we went ISO a new Blackberry 8330. He liked his Blackberry when he had it and wanted to go back with it. He wasn't fond of the new Curve, the swipe square, he didn't like it. After he purchased his Blackberry 8330 on Amazon, I decided to do so a few days later. This is a great phone. It fits my hand, I can text, email, tweet, with ease. The camera is decent. The memory is low but it will fit a 16g miniSD. The accessories available are great. Blackberry is working on their OS, it'll never be Palm's WebOS, but it's getting better. Blackberry has a great desktop manager, I like the ease of transfering files. Overall, great phone.

      March 5, 2012 at 5:38 am | Reply
  4. Pedro Henrique Borin

    It makes me fear for my safety and my family because I do not know who can have access to such information.

    April 22, 2011 at 3:54 am | Reply
  5. Anish Shrestha

    This article again lands us back to the legendary technological debate question "Is technology a boon or a curse on the face of the mankind?".
    I have always believed, and still do that there is no returning back when it comes to the technological advancements of the human race. The only option you have is to improvise it further towards perfection or finding a better substitute.
    I always answer that particular legendary question with a question; "You answer will depend on person who is holding that assault weapon. Is it a solider all geared up to protect you, or a rebellion?"

    April 22, 2011 at 5:01 am | Reply
    • Mariana

      (Wireless Phone) I've been an iPhone user ever since the first iPhone and upgraded to every ovesirn of an iPhone, every other year I would upgrade at full price. What I can tell you is I've had the Atrix for only a few days and the customization that you can do with Android phones is Incredible. I'll try and list what I like about it; You can customize widgets to your home screen to display a mini ovesirn of your most used programs, I use it like a preview without having to open the program. There is a bar across the top of the phone that has all the phone notifications. I use the Finger print recognition to unlock the phone which I find it to be much faster than entering a code, there is a code backup just in case something happens to the fingerprint reader or if you are wearing gloves. Downloading and Installing applications is faster than any phone I've ever used. There are a lot of Free apps on the Android Market that are paid apps on the App Store. The best analogy I can tell you is; This phone is like a custom race car, It will take a few days to customize, but once you do, it's like nothing you've ever driven before.

      March 5, 2012 at 5:54 am | Reply
      • Shreyash

        To be honest, I'm not rlaely sure. Drawing the object on top of the shadow is not such a good idea, because it may cause shadowed objects to actually be drawn (like object lying in the shadow of other objects, and so on)What would probably be best on the long run is the idea to also assign a height when first processing the shadows, and when drawing the objects, only apply shadows on objects lower than this height. And an object is set to be a little higher than its own shadow. This would probably lead to the best result, where small objects don't case shadows on objects larger than them. But it would also mean rewriting the way shadows are combined with the scene, adding a bit more shader complexity.

        September 10, 2012 at 5:12 am |
  6. James

    wow- as it is iPhone, cnn stuffs are supporting it and even trying to justify it. I wonder, how they wuld react if rival companies did it!

    April 22, 2011 at 6:15 am | Reply
    • Mariagrazia

      Teenagers and even elementary aged ecdlirhn with their own cell phones, something I first started noticing about three years ago. You're right, there are plenty of other differences as well, this was a pretty narrow analysis, so, yes, a lot to consider. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

      March 3, 2012 at 7:53 am | Reply
  7. IKLINDO

    I can't wait to read the article that is going to follow this story about the ex husband that tracks his ex wife and then kills her or the psycho that stalks his old roommate and then they find her cut up into small pieces and scattered across 3 states... What a great thing to offer customers! Yeah Apple!! Who need privacy or safety, so long as the big companies can mine your data.

    April 22, 2011 at 6:57 am | Reply
  8. John

    You do realise that in 10 years time this information is going to be used to devise even more irritating ways to steal your money.

    April 22, 2011 at 8:11 am | Reply
  9. Jiro Shibata

    One of the selling points of the iPhone was that you could track the location of your phone in case you lost it. I do not know what the fuss is all about, especially since it is blatantly advertised that your phone is tracked.

    If you let anyone that close to your personal computer to be able to get the map of where you have been, you do not deserve a computer. Who cares if your spouse finds out where you have been.. unless you have something to hide.

    It also gives you an approximate coordinate, not an exact one. It is also not up to the minute.

    Terrible reporting. Scare tactics, to stir controversy. The Patriot act is a worse invasion of privacy. CIA satellites that can look inside your house at any given time is a worse invasion of privacy...

    April 22, 2011 at 9:08 am | Reply
  10. Jiro Shibata

    In addition in order to track someone down.. you need the synched computer. A stalker would not have access to that computer.. unless he breaks into your house and steals it...

    April 22, 2011 at 9:10 am | Reply
  11. Peter P

    This is the tip of the privacy ice berg. To be tracked or not to be tracked. That is the future we are facing.

    April 22, 2011 at 9:36 am | Reply
  12. YeahMan

    Okay, wait a minute. So what's basically being said here is that the iphone can be traced. What's not being said here is WHO CARES! So you're iphone can be traced, whatever! Unless there's something that the cell phone user is trying to cover up or hide there's no point in raising a stink over this.

    AND, if someone does try to pull off a terrorist attack and is taken into custody before the attack is carried out, by being "tracked", everyone will be praising this technology for stopping something terrible. Give it up people, we live in a day in age where people want us dead just because we are Americans. I'm sure nobody is secretly spying on you just because they want to.

    April 22, 2011 at 10:10 am | Reply
  13. walter

    This is just another rubbish article by CNN.
    It reminds me of the piece (product endorsement) they did for the robot guy working in Japan.
    This is not serious news, by a serious company for serious people.

    April 22, 2011 at 10:21 am | Reply
  14. Bright

    This is like digging your own grave knowing you will die one day. Our own advancement is going to kill us.

    April 22, 2011 at 10:48 am | Reply
  15. JMC Paris France

    Where I am, where I have been and where I will be going is my business. Not Apple's, not yours, and certainly not some 21st century equivalent of a nerdy Don Draper trying to force me into buying goods or services. At the very least, give me the option of easily turning off this frontal assault on my privacy and serenity.

    April 22, 2011 at 11:27 am | Reply
  16. PS

    The answer is really simple. DONT OWN A CELL PHONE.

    I don't have one and never have. The world was perfectly fine long before cell phones.

    Trust me people, you really won't die if you can't talk on the phone every second of the day.

    April 22, 2011 at 1:19 pm | Reply
  17. John Whig

    Reza – the thing is, there is a short paragraph in the terms and conditions, which you no doubt didn't read but clicked to accept, which says that Apple will be doing something like this. I am not saying it is right, but they can say that you allowed them to do it.

    April 22, 2011 at 1:43 pm | Reply
  18. Ian P

    This article is so misleading just like the rest of them.

    The headline is misleading and then it is all downhill from there.

    April 22, 2011 at 1:52 pm | Reply
  19. mike

    this is onbelivebel , it`s like they know you bether then you know yourself
    maybe we can ask them in apple to tell as exextly how we do all year where did we went cou`s we forget somtims

    April 22, 2011 at 2:00 pm | Reply
  20. Wow

    This is the absolute worst display of journalism by CNN. This actually tops CNN news channel reading twitter feeds as a substitute for real news and journalism. Let's face it people, these "News" outlets, CNN/FOX have become "The Real World" of TV drama.

    April 22, 2011 at 2:02 pm | Reply
  21. _m

    "Suddenly, there's a way for anyone to know exactly where you go and when you go there, virtually revealing your daily routine instantly."

    Well i have an iPhone, tell me where i've been.

    April 22, 2011 at 2:07 pm | Reply
    • Sai

      Wow I can't imagine hinvag an Un-Jailbroken Iphone because when apple and at&t slowly spoon feed these so called features they need to do their due diligence on in order to assure quality control and performance, our Jailbroken iphones are working fine and I bet if you took a poll everyone and their mother! yes their mother! would rather be jailbroken and take their chances versus an expensive motorola razor by apple! Ok maybe I was harsh with the razor but you get the drift! Ten thumbs up for Jailbreaks! it's called testing! and we all use at our own risk! just show your Lockscreen (lockinfo) to a non jailbroken Iphone user and they will feel like they are being robbed! and if you show them anything else forget it they will feel like jerks!

      March 5, 2012 at 2:22 am | Reply
    • Hussain

      First, I'll respond to N/A's post peearatsly, as most of his/her information is simply incorrect.We did not compare Nokia Maps to Google Maps. Nor did we compare it to Apple Maps for that matter. We simply pointed out that Nokia Maps on the N95-4 had a few cumbersome limitations that make it sub-par compared to a GPS navigation application.Second, most of the S60 user base has never heard of third-party sites like the one you mentioned. In fact, most S60 users have yet to install a single third-party app. Saying just go here doesn't work Nokia has yet to provide a way for S60 software to be easily distributed to the entire platform, and the third-party community cannot fill that void.Finally, iPhone does have video capture ability, you simply need to download a third party app. Quite a few will be available tomorrow, in fact.Please don't get into our heads and assert that we hate Nokia. We get a small minority of comments that, when added up, would argue that we hate everyone in the wireless industry. The industry will not improve if we don't point out the problems in each device. Glossing over them would be a disservice to our readers.

      March 5, 2012 at 2:28 am | Reply
  22. Caner

    Keyser Soze@ actually its Ergenekon and its the name of the war which made anatolia Turk. Its also the name of the series of trials against Turkish deep government and I am confident that USA has similar underground organisations but its not in any way connected to USA. After Islamic rooted AKP took over they decided to open war against secular institutes of the Turkish state which was being controlled by Army connected Ergenekon. They were not the good guys either but the cleansing being done by islamists? That is not the way get the job done.

    Also to stop Iphone track you download untrackerd from cydia, wait 5 minutes and go the directory /private/var/root/Library/Caches/locationd find file consolidated.db change dir permissions to 440(read only) and uninstall untrackerd. Delete old iphone backups in PC or mac. And you are done. I did it, it works.

    April 22, 2011 at 2:12 pm | Reply
  23. Rbacca

    Guys, you all seem alarmed, Cell phone carriers have been doing this for years.

    April 22, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Reply
  24. Al Seghir

    The phone company MUST know where your cellphone is, otherwise your cell phone would not even work. This is no news. By definition, all cellphone owners are tracked. The only issue is, how confidential that info remains and the truth is, the gov can get it, a subpoena can order it, a hacker can extract it...

    Even an Android, or a WindowsPhone, can be infected by a tracker anyway.

    April 22, 2011 at 3:34 pm | Reply
  25. John

    It is a serious breach of privacy! Some can say it is cool (but it is only cool if you choose to share such info). With the data being so easily accessible it is a very serious issue.
    We all follow through our daily routines and same are our kids. Imagine someone having an exact information on where and when you were for past week, month... How easy it is to kidnap, take advantage, rob you or your kid....

    April 22, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Reply
  26. what a joke

    Dont use internet If your not a software engineer.

    April 22, 2011 at 3:59 pm | Reply
  27. Joan

    I suggest anyone who's buying this sensationalism read the following posts:

    http://ihnatko.com/2011/04/20/hey-wonderful-theres-a-location-tracking-file-on-my-iphone/

    http://tinyurl.com/4xlw6hq

    April 22, 2011 at 4:38 pm | Reply
  28. Reg

    Stalkers will hack this information out of people's iPhone. Does anybody not see the personal security risk in this? Very irresponsible.

    April 22, 2011 at 5:11 pm | Reply
    • Pedro

      Performance: fast & stable. – It can run Raging Thunder II otosmhly (need to download data to SD card separately in order to run the game. The data can be found easily on android forums). – Web browsing: no lag when scrolling. No double-tap or one-touch zooming (as in Iphone and other capacitive phones) because this phone has resistive screen. Wifi: – Easy to config. – Run otosmhly. Texting: not texting so no comment. However: – Qwerty onscreen keyboard is not spacious (3 screen). Music: – Loudspeaker is good for pop, rap. Not good for metal + rock: I tried playing Tokyo (Resident Evil Afterlife's OST)and it sounded awful. Connectivity: – Always has good signal. – No problem with making calls (voice is clear). Software: – Running Android 1.6. – Can be upgraded to 2.1 (not officially supported). Battery: – 1500mAh => long standby time. – Run out quickly when running game + WiFi on (battery is drained 21% when running Raging Thunder II for 10 mins). *Pros: – One of the most cheapest WiFi & (A)GPS-ready android phone. – Fast & stable performance. – Long battery life (standby time). – Good design (curves at the top & bottom, brushed-metal-like plastic case). *Cons: – Resistive screen => no double-tap zooming. – Old version of Android (1.6). But upgradable to 2.1 (support Live Wallpaper). Suggestion: – Install APNdroid (must use 3.0, 2.1 won't work) + 3G Watchdog. – Install ApkInstaller to install applications from SD card.

      March 5, 2012 at 2:17 am | Reply
  29. michael

    Big deal. If you are THAT Paranoid, or if you are doing something criminal, just turn off you location services in your iphone preferences. Yeah, I would like this tracking stopped, but people are freaking out. Believe me, in nearly all cases, unless your wife suspects you are cheating, no one gives a f**k where you've been.

    April 22, 2011 at 5:19 pm | Reply
  30. Kenny

    So let me get this right; apple too ? What do you think is the reason more than 90 percent of the world's population has a cell or mobile phone ? From the beginning it has not been a big secret what these phones are capable of, and come on if you lost your phone (or it gets stolen) wouldn't you be very happy that it is fairly easy to trace or track it back ? (just like it is to make it untraceable ) yes you give up privacy owning a phone you just have to figure out if it's worth it; in some cases it is and in some cases it's not. apple is not any different from other phone manufacturers; except the brand (apple) and the amount of gadgets for the pod ; pad and iphone generation makes it (even for me) an attractive option if and when i'm considering buying a new phone ; the technology apple uses is impressive and reading this article i have to agree with the writer; does it matter ? I mean it's not ok ; and yes the world is full of idiots, stalkers, rapists, murderers but seriously is that really my problem ? with technology reaching it's high this era ; people must be educated to keep up so if someone decides to invade your privacy nowadays you know who is responsible for that.

    April 22, 2011 at 10:26 pm | Reply
  31. Shawn

    This is a very serious thing here. If apple and google ( just heard an update that google phones are also doing this in a race with ape to build a location bases marketing data base) are going to do this , why not let people know up front and let us decide if we want to be tracked 24/7. Also as a requirement , when phones are manufactured , it is required thet they be accessible by NSA , FBI , CIA without warrant for security reasons. Not only are our locations being tracked but also (even though denied) our conversations are constantly being monitored by the NSA computers for key phrases and words . Computers, cell phones and even landline phones are monitored by NSA computers all the time. Did you k ow google traffic maps track your phones signal ? How do you think the real time traffic Gets Its information. Your credit cards are tracked , everything is tracked.It's not right, there is no way to fight it unless every citizen in the country takes a stand ......... But we all know that's not going to happen.

    April 23, 2011 at 12:38 am | Reply
  32. shelby lax :D

    I don't think that it is necessary to be tracked by your own cell phone. A lot of these issue's come from apps. that are unnecessary and pointless. Not to mention the fact that the workers record every movement you make and everywhere you go. Totally pointless.
    -Shelby Lax

    May 16, 2011 at 4:19 am | Reply
  33. Zinspreorie

    Pleasant Post. This transmit helped me in my college assignment. Thnaks Alot

    July 6, 2011 at 12:51 pm | Reply
  34. Dale

    Ah, the smell of fresh fanboys in the ronming. Nothing quite like it.James, have a nice day.Tim, drop me an email and let me know what you think about the iPhone :)Thomas, the best for last. Sorry, but how was dropping MMS a good design choice? Oh, and Apple didn't hype it? The most revolutionary mobile device in history ? will completely change the way users think about mobile computing ? Sorry, have you not see the ads or the keynote? Apple hyped the hell out of this product.And as far as me not being the target market, sorry I don't buy that. To say I'm not the target market simply because I don't like the device is to believe that Apple made every single decision perfectly, executed on the iPhone perfectly and delivered a device sent straight from heaven. And that if I don't like it, it's because it wasn't for me. Not because they made any mistakes (gawd forbid).Bill, thanks for stopping by mate. I actually agree with you that some of the choices were likely forced by AT T. I'm not sure you can chalk up lack of MMS to that, but some of the choices. Which, of course, contradicts Thomas's theory that every decision was made by Jobs as a design decision ;-)Anyways, I'm done on this. My original post was fair. The iPhone is being vastly overplayed in the media and blogosphere. The iPhone has a huge number of missing pieces that regular phones are able to take care of at 1/10 the price. And, worst of all, that thing you want to just work (perfectly), ie: the phone portion, needs work.And given all those bits, paying 600$ for the device and being told to be thankful for the privilege reeks of the Apple attitude of old. The attitude that would have killed the company had Microsoft not saved them.

    March 5, 2012 at 1:36 am | Reply
  35. Mingyu

    Catalin, you are probably right, but since Xbox360 is a DX9 deivce, waiting for DX10 in XNA would be not much of solution for me :/But, what if we compute a line that stretches across a polygon that is supposed to cast shadow. This line would connect the two most outer points of that polygon, the ones that are on the edges of your shadow. Then we could use that line for calculating shadow using Manders method. Off course such a shadow would partially cover the shadow casting object itself, but then we could draw that object on top of the shadow layer or maybe use a pixel shader to remove parts of a shadow that intersect with the shadow casting object itself.Again this is only a rough idea, based on my common sense logic and not a deep knowledge of the XNA and shaders. The knowledge which i unfortunately don't posses (yet)

    September 10, 2012 at 5:00 am | Reply

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