The gradually building concern about online invasions of individual privacy rights took a surprising (and perhaps more alarming) turn this week,
with the disclosure that Apple iPhones and iPads running iOS4 have been automatically recording the physical location of the phone, which is to say, tracking the location of the phone’s user.
The data file comprising up to hundreds of daily data points is stored in a file on the phone itself, and if a user “syncs” the phone to a PC (whether Apple or Windows) the file is automatically replicated, unencrypted, to that PC, whether at home or in the office.
All of this occurs, of course, without the explicit understanding or permission of the owner of the phone.
According to PCWorld’s Ian Paul, today:
“Apple’s privacy headaches started after two researchers released an open source application called iPhone Tracker that reads your iOS device’s location history from an unencrypted backup file on your PC. The app then plots this information on a map and allows you to play back your location history complete with time and date stamps.”
Ian Paul goes on to outline five good questions about this practice being asked by regulators and privacy professionals, including: why is the data being collected, exactly what data is being collected, and to what extent has this data already been used by law enforcement authorities.
While such tracking may not yet be explicitly illegal in the United States, it may in fact be a violation of some stricter European privacy regulations.
To date, Apple has not answered publicly.
Mercator Advisoy Group believes if you personally, or your firm, or your employees, uses these devices, you should start monitoring this discussion.
The referenced articles from the New York Times and PC World are a good starting point.
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