iPhone Logs Your Every Move – Only Not that Well

This week’s big iPhone news was that the device tracks your every move and stores it on your PC when you synch with iTunes.

The discovery of this location tracking freaked out a bunch of people including Al Franken who is demanding an explanation from Apple. Franken is concerned that unauthorized snoops could easily discover a person’s home address, location of a child’s school, doctors office and other confidential information.

This revelation did not trouble me too much. Like David Pogue, I have nothing to hide. But I figured I might as well download the free iPhone tracker application and see what my PC might reveal if I was ever indicted for terrorism.

I was a little surprised at what I discovered. Using the iPhone Tracker application I can see that my computer does indeed keep a record of trips I’ve made to Stockton, Santa Barbara, Calabasas, Orange and Westwood. But what it does not do is reveal any precise locations. There is no way to pinpoint my home, my work, my child’s school or my doctor.

There were a couple of other surprises as well. The secret hidden iPhone log does not appear to have any record of a trip to San Luis Obispo that we took a few months ago. But it does seem to indicate that I spent some time at the Mendota Airport, though I don’t recall ever having done so and have no clear idea where Mendota is. The log file also has me in a suburb of Las Vegas this past July on a date when I was in a meeting in Camarillo. With my iPhone.

What this tracking data seems to represent is celluar and WiFi nodes that my iPhone has contacted. If you pass through an area your iPhone will log a wide grid of available cell nodes. Somebody looking at my log could tell that I’ve been in the Sacramento area but they can’t tell exactly where. Nodes are activated in Lodi (where I went) but also in Tracy, Brentwood and Manteca (where I didn’t go.) For some reason airports show up in the log with amazing frequency – even if I’ve only come within thirty miles of them.

Yes my iPhone is tracking me. But not in a way that anyone would find useful, except for someone who is looking to improve network connectivity perhaps. I’ve got much more to fear from my Garmin…or Facebook.

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  1. Carrie April 23, 2011