Have an iPhone in your pocket? An iPad on your desk? According to stories floating around the interwebs last week, you’re being watched. Apple’s super-popular devices are logging your every GPS coordinate, giving Big Brother an ongoing log of your travels.
Except, not really.
Christopher Vance, a mobile forensics specialist working with the West Virginia State Police, thinks the hype surrounding the devices’ “tracking abilities” is overblown. And I think he’s probably right, him being a mobile forensics specialist and all.
Go read my story about the issue in today’s Charleston Daily Mail, but here’s a brief rundown for the purposes of this post: Vance thinks the GPS coordinates are stored to make it easier for your phone to reconnect with cell towers and Wi-Fi networks you’ve previously used. If the phone needs GPS info, it pulls it from this secret log instead of re-gathering the information.
Also, another main point: you need direct access to an iPhone or the computer where it was most recently synced before you can retrieve any tracking information. Vance says he’s seen no evidence that your phone or iPad are transmitting your whereabouts to Apple Headquarters or anywhere else.
Vance also said the data is almost useless for forensic purposes — it can place someone in a city, even in an area of a city, but not on a particular street corner at a specific time.
Wi-Fi networks are a little more helpful (if the police see I’m on Taylor Books’ network at the same time some witnesses see me stuffing merchandise from the store’s fine magazine selection into my backpack, I might be screwed) but there’s no guarantee Joe Criminal will stop his exploits to switch over to wireless.
NPR’s All Tech Considered blog posted an interesting analysis of the tracking information. Be sure to check out the map about halfway down. The blogger is sitting at NPR headquarters but his phone is recording him at locations blocks away.
If you’re still worried, me and my fellow Motorola RAZR users are always willing to welcome you back to the flip-phone fold.