The Internet has been full of conversation regarding the finding that the iPhone 4 contains a database tracking users locations via GPS and other information. This database, which stored a year of history or more, was also synced back to the computer via iTunes and stored unencrypted. As noted in this article iPhone keeps record of everywhere you go on The Guardian:
Security researchers have discovered that Apple‘s iPhone keeps track of where you go – and saves every detail of it to a secret file on the device which is then copied to the owner’s computer when the two are synchronised.
Although the article is a good read I think they unfairly limited the scope of this to Apple:
Only the iPhone records the user’s location in this way, say Warden and Alasdair Allan, the data scientists who discovered the file and are presenting their findings at the Where 2.0 conference in San Francisco on Wednesday. “Alasdair has looked for similar tracking code in [Google's] Android phones and couldn’t find any,” said Warden. “We haven’t come across any instances of other phone manufacturers doing this.”
The truth is a lot less rosy for owners of anything other than the iPhone. The same problem, if you see it as one, exists on all of the major smart phone platforms and is only going to get worse. The Wall Street Journal has published a great article going into detail of the problem and why it will only continue to get worse, Apple, Google Receive Phone Users’ Locations:
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.
Gizmodo has asked the other major smart phone OS companies what their practice was. Like Windows Phone 7 Google has an opt-in system for location data collection, but the company refused to answer on the record whether this “anonymous” location data is logged persistently. While no file was found on the Android phones, Google of course would be pretty happy to store the reams of data on their servers and sell it to advertisers for the highest bid.
Asking Microsoft the same question about Windows Phone 7, the company confirmed the only locational data stored on your Windows Phone 7 device is your last known location, for use with the Find My Phone feature
The information your phone sends to our location service when an application
asks for location includes a unique ID that is randomly generated and stored on
your phone. The unique ID does not contain any personal information and is not
used to identify you. This unique ID is stored by our location service for a
limited time in order to distinguish location requests, which helps us deliver
more accurate and reliable location. We do not store any information that could
directly identify you, such as your name, phone number, email address, or
address with the information received by our location service and we don’t use
any information received by our location service to identify or contact you.
The information received and stored by our location service only is used to
provide location to requesting applications and to update and improve the
accuracy, efficiency, and reliability of the location service.
All smartphone OEMs are working to snatch as much information as possible about us. The only thing you can do, at present, is to turn off location-based services that run persistently in the background, such as the Find My Phone enhancement. If you are a privacy advocate like I am though I don’t think you can cheer at the current state of mobile privacy; irrespective of OS choice.
The major question is whether or not people care?