Your iPhone knows what you did last summer, where you got your coffee yesterday and where you bought new shoes last week.
Two programmers have discovered a hidden file on the Apple iPhone and iPad that keeps tabs on where the phone has been and when it was there.
The file, called “consolidated.db,” stores the data on the 3G devices and when they are synced to a computer, the location information copies to the machine’s hard drive, duo Pete Warden and Alasdair Allan revealed Wednesday at the Where 2.0 tech conference in San Francisco.
The revelation sparked immediate privacy concerns for customers, but the pair advises not to panic – at least not yet.
“There’s no immediate harm that would seem to come from the availability of this data. Nor is there evidence to suggest this data is leaving your custody,” Allan wrote in a post on the website O’Reilly Radar.
He did, however, push for transparency from Apple as to why the data is being collected.
“Why this data is stored and how Apple intends to use it — or not — are important questions that need to be explored,” he noted.
Warden – a former Apple employee – has built a free online application named iPhone Tracker that grabs the data and maps out where the device checked in. The app demonstrates just how easily the data can be accessed by anyone who uses your computer – and how easily it could fall into the wrong hands.
Cell phone companies like AT&T and Verizon have always had this information but it would take a court order for them to retrieve it and use, Allan wrote.
Warden and Allan suggest encrypting your iPhone and iPad backups through simple changes in iTunes settings.
Before the reveal, Allan and Warden contacted Apple’s Product Security team, but as of Wednesday had not received a response.
And now Congress is wading into the debate.
Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who has previously pressed the issue of Internet privacy, sent a letter to Steve Jobs Wednesday.
“The existence of this information — stored in an unencrypted format — raises serious privacy concerns,” he wrote. Franken said the data could be used by “criminals and bad actors” to exploit children and others.
Franken also asked Jobs whether the same location data tracking was a feature on other Apple devices like MacBooks.
Politico reports that fellow Democrat Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.), a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, slammed the findings in a statement.
“I intend to ask Apple and the federal agencies charged with oversight some very direct questions to understand the frequency and extent of this data collection and the use, protection and sharing of this sensitive information,” he said. “This episode, and many others, illustrates the need for enhanced government oversight of data collection activities.”