There’s been a bit of a brouhaha in certain circles of late, following the revelation that the Apple iPhone tracks its owner’s location without their knowledge or permission.
The discovery was actually made in September last year by Paul Courbis, who found that the iPhone routinely logged its position according to nearby mobile phone masts. The data is stored on the iPhone itself and in iTunes as part of the backups that are created during each iPhone synchronisation.
Apple waited for several days before commenting on the discovery, but eventually issued a press release that attempted to dispel any privacy concerns.
In essence, Apple claims that while it does make use of this tracking data, it is always anonymised and used only to help improve certain iPhone functions. Apple also pledged to release an iPhone update that will alter the way in which this function works — the current implementation stores too much data, which is apparently the result of a bug.
Despite the concerns about privacy, we don't think there's too much to worry about here. The information isn’t particularly accurate and linking it to a particular person (the iPhone owner, in other words) seems to require physical access to the iPhone itself, or the computer the phone is synchronised with.
What is interesting, however, is that you can download a free Mac application (there’s no Windows version yet, sadly) that can interpret this saved location information and display it on a map.
The result gives a fascinating insight into your travels since you’ve been using an iPhone — sat-nav devices can do something similar, but the always-on nature of the iPhone makes its record far more complete. The map also reveals the relative inaccuracy of the plotted positions, since they’re derived using mobile phone mast triangulation, rather than the considerably more accurate GPS positioning.