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When news broke out about iPhones and iPad 3Gs possibly collecting continuous information about the whereabout of users and storing that data in a secret file, it has had users aflutter about just what this means. On Wednesday, two researchers revealed details about this secret file. Read on for more about what this could possibly mean for you.
The secret file, which is called "consolidated.db," stores location information which dates back to June 2010, which was about the same time that Apple had updated iOS to version 4.0. While Apple has yet to comment on the matter, it does appear that Apple does not have continuous access to the location data, according to the researchers, one of whom says that they are a former Apple employee.
CNN provided a nice little FAQ to help clear the air for those who might be a little nervous about what their iDevice could be tracking:
It uses cell phone towers to triangulate an approximate location. While not as accurate as GP, it does use satellites in order to pinpoint a phone's whereabouts.
It appears to be random intervals, however it is fairly often, say Pete Warden and Alasdair Allan, the researchers and journalists who had publicized the secret file.
On both the mobile device as well as the computer that the device is synced to.
Supposedly just you. The researchers are saying that Apple doesn't seem to have access to this data, at least not in real-time. Interestingly, while most most mobile phone companies do collect similar data, normally that data "requires a court order to gain access to it, whereas this is available to anyone who can get their hands on your phone or computer."
Also, the location file is unencrypted, so technically anyone with access to your phone or computer could, in theory, get access to it and look up where you've been. The researchers say Apple has "made it possible for anyone from a jealous spouse to a private investigator to get a detailed picture of your movements."
Basically, someone could look at the file and know where you've been since June. However, they would need access to your phone or your computer, where the consolidated.db file is stored. The researchers feel there is little need to worry however. "Don't panic. … 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. But why this data is stored and how Apple intends to use it -- or not -- are important questions that need to be explored."
Of course, it may be of interest to take a peek at just where all you have been exactly. The researchers did create an open-source program appropriately titled iPhone Tracker, which is free for download and can be used to create a map of everywhere you've been since tracking started.
Only iPhones and iPads with 3G connections, and have been updated to iOS 4.0 or later. It is still unclear if this type of file is stores on iPhones that utilize Verizon's network, or even on Android smartphones. The researchers will continue to look into it.
You can, but it's not exactly an easy feat. To find the file, follow this path: /Users/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backups/
However, as the researchers point out, the file will be updated again each time you sync your device to a computer. So if you opt to delete the file, it can become a repetitive process, at least until Apple might provide an update.
The researchers are suggesting to encrypt your data through iTunes, which can make it more difficult for anyone with access to your computer to steal any data.
You can do this by opening iTunes, plugging in your iPhone or iPad and click on the device name when it shows up in the "Devices" category on the left side of the screen.
Then, on the device's home screen, scroll down to this "Options" menu and click the box that says "Encrypt iPhone Backup." Apple notes: "Encrypted backups are indicated by a padlock icon (as visible below in the Deleting a Backup section), and a password is required to restore the information to iPhone."
It's unclear. Apple hasn't spoken on the matter yet. According to the researchers:
"One guess might be that they have new features in mind that require a history of your location, but that's pure speculation. The fact that it's transferred across devices when you restore or migrate is evidence the data-gathering isn't accidental."
While the researchers are saying they did, they also have yet to hear back. In the meantime, U.S. Sen. Al Franken did write a letter to Apple expressing concern over the file, and why it's stored in an unencrypted format.
So there you have it. What's your take on the file readers? Feel free to leave your speculation below!
Follow this article's author, Matthew Tilmann on Twitter