The Privacy BlogPrivacy, Security, Cryptography, and Anonymity

Jun/10

22

Collection of location info on iPhones and others

Many sites, including the Los Angeles Times are reporting on a change to Apple’s privacy policy that allows collection and sharing of “anonymous” location information. The only way to prevent this seems to be completely disabling location services on the iPhone.

It appears that Google’s privacy policy allows a similar level of information collection.

Much of the chatter I have seen about this issue talks about targeted advertising and user tracking. While I have no doubt that both companies are very interested in doing that I don’t think this particular disclosure is about that. Message targeting is more likely to happen within applications where the user has granted explicit permission to push location based advertising and alerts.

I think this is all about improving Enhanced GPS services. My guess (and it is just a guess at this point) is that the phones are reporting back GPS location, Cell tower IDs and signal strength, and all visible WiFi base stations and signal strengths. Given enough of these sets of measurements, they can provide extremely accurate location information given only WiFi information (which takes much less power than GPS and also works indoors). It has been well established that multiple companies, including Google, are building such databases from trucks driving around the world (see my last post).

One purely anecdotal data point I have is from my WiFi only iPad. For background, I live on a fairly large lot and the only WiFi I can detect is my own. One of the first things I did with the new iPad was to open up the map application. It almost instantly centered the location reticule on my house. The only available location information was from the WiFi. I know that the Street View truck has never been through my neighborhood, and doubt that any others have been. My suspicion is that phones used within my house have been providing the correlating data between my physical location and my personal WiFi base station hardware ID.

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1 comment

  • John · June 27, 2010 at 6:42 pm

    After opening and doing a cursory survey of Microsoft’s “Live” services program, I found a ‘ton’ of what I will call “sniffer” type programs that gather and transmit, apparently, what the user is doing, viewing, and storing using any M. Soft “Live” program. So, I dumped “Live Essentials” and purged (hopefully) “All” from my OS. Now, what about M. Soft .NET programs and other Apps. that “broadcast” your OS’ configurations: M. Soft “Silverlight” and so on? And, why is M. Soft loading devices and ‘services’ into my OS that (paraphrased) “make it easier for the Developer” to write programs and presentations? I don’t write (code) or develop anything. What are all these ‘not-used’ “for developer; IT’ier; Monitoring for Supervisor” programs doing for M. Soft if not spying? In other words what is going on in the registry I don’t know about, if anything? Is there any scanner program that will root-out and expose propietary Monitoring devices planted by Microsoft and others within thier “Hot Fixes” and “Auto-Updates”?
    So, I’m paranoid: but I do store some inventions and writings and so on that I covet in my computer. OR, should I take a vaction?

    Reply

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