Outrage all over the world: Apple is tracking the locations of its iPhones and iPads.
THE PRIVACY ISSUE
At the end of April, Alasdair Allan and Peter Warden announced they had discovered that the geographical locations of iPhones and iPads are stored in an unencrypted file called consolidated.db on computers whenever the iPhone or iPad are synchronized to them.
Most of the world’s newspapers, magazines and blogs commented that tracking users’ locations without their consent is an unethical practice. But how bad is it and does one have to be concerned about privacy? Don’t panic, Apple states it will change the way this data is stored in the next version of its operating system and will only store locations if users enable location-based services, such as Foursquare, Fandango, Maps or Yelp. Moreover, the cache will not be synchronized with a personal computer and data will be cleared frequently.
Data, to my knowledge, is not forwarded to Apple or any other server. As long as phones and computers remain personal property, no one else sees the data.
Most importantly, even if someone got a phone or personal computer belonging to someone else and analyzed the data in the phone, the data in that file does not store the actual location, but the sites of nearby base stations (telephone towers) and WiFi networks. A phone user’s actual position can vary between 100 meters on a WiFi location and up to 1,400 meters for a base station.
The database generally shows in which city a phone user has been in, but would not reveal which road, street or restaurant the phone user visited.
According to Apple, the data stored in the consolidated.db file provides faster location-based services, so users do not only rely on GPS data, but the base station data as well as WiFi data to determine their locations.
I think for most people, this is not really an issue. But why this data is really stored and what Apple intends to do with the data are important questions that need addressing.
On the same topic, all services such as Hotmail, Yahoo and Gmail or Facebook that require user-id and a password, can store that identical location data.
They can store the address of a user’s access router (WiFi or fixed network) and with that know a person’s whereabouts. The only difference from Apple is that for services such as Google and Facebook, that information could be used for advertising purposes.
SONY PLAYSTATION NETWORK HACKEDThe concern that some services are analyzing location data may be unnerving, but it would be of greater concern if profile data, such as passwords, personal information and credit card data would get stolen from a service provider that one trusted.
This is exactly what happened at Sony’s PlayStation network earlier in April. More than 70 million user accounts, including credit card data, were hacked and lost until the end of May.
Sony reacted quickly and took the network down. They informed users about this problem so that they could cancel credit cards and change passwords On the financial side, a credit card is insured against cases of fraud, so the chance of financial loss is minimal. Passwords are quickly changed so it is one to two hours and a missing credit card, which a bank usually replaces within a day or two.
I am certain that there are cases in which account information has leaked from a service provider who has not bothered to inform its customers. Often such companies find it unimportant to disclose such leakage, as they are not storing credit card information or other “important information” on their user servers.
I think this behavior on the part of service providers is unacceptable, especially when we look at the normal user and their use of passwords............