Tag Archives: privacy

Apple Q&A on Location Data: It’s *Not* User Locations and Storing Duration was a Bug

There has been quite a lot of noise on the geoblogs and blogs regarding last week's announcement that Apple's iPhone is recording user locations (see also this followup story). Via Peter Batty, I learned that this morning Apple is providing official answers, including confirmation that it's not user location that is stored: "6. People have identified up to a year’s worth of location data being stored on the iPhone. Why does my iPhone need so much data in order to assist it in finding my location today? This data is not the iPhone’s location data—it is a subset (cache) of the crowd-sourced Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower database which is downloaded from Apple into the iPhone to assist the iPhone in rapidly and accurately calculating location. The reason the iPhone stores so much data is a bug we uncovered and plan to fix shortly (see Software Update section below). We don’t think the iPhone needs to store more than seven days of this data." If that's not enough for you, you can read more of what was published recently, on Slashdot regarding the associated lawsuits, Google's Ed Parsons entry named A smartphone without location is just not smart, O'Reilly's entry named iPhone Tracking: The day after and Additional iPhone tracking research. Keep in mind that these were published before Apple's official explanations.

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Mobile Devices Location Tracking Update & Other Location Privacy Stories

Hot on the heels of last week's announcement of Apple's iPhone and iPad 3G recording user locations, Slashdot discussed several mobile devices tracking and privacy stories. Here's their summaries and follow the links to read their associated discussions. The first one was a story named iPhone and Location: Don't Panic, followed by a more detailed story named Police Using Apple iOS Tracking Data For Forensics:

"Several readers have sent in follow-up articles to Wednesday's news that iPhone location data was being tracked and stored. First, it seems Android shares a similar problem, though the file containing the location data is "only accessible on devices that have been rooted and opened up to installation of unsigned apps." Developer Magnus Eriksson has created an app to flush this data. Next: the iPhone tracking file is not new, just in a different place than it used to be. Reader overThruster then points out a CNet story indicating that law enforcement has been aware of this file for some time, and has used it in a forensics context. This story is a growing concern for Apple, particularly now that Senator Al Franken (PDF) and Rep. Ed Markey (PDF) have both written letters to Steve Jobs demanding details about the location tracking. Finally, PCMag explains how to view the location data present on your iPhone, should you so desire."

Two other stories on location privacy were discussed, the first one How People Broadcast Their Locations Without Meaning To:

""Smartphones include geotagging features that many people aren't aware of, MIT's Technology Review reports. And it's not just in the obvious places: 'For example, by looking at the location metadata stored with pictures posted through one man's anonymous Twitter account, the researchers were able to pinpoint his likely home address. From there, by cross-referencing this location with city records, they found his name. Using that information, the researchers went on to find his place of work, his wife's name, and information about his children.'""

And a last one named Turning GPS Tracking Devices Against Their Owners:

""Those low-cost embedded tracking devices in your smartphone or those personal GPS devices that track the whereabouts of your children, your car, your pet, or a shipment can easily be intercepted by hackers, who can then pinpoint their whereabouts, impersonate them, and spoof their physical location. A researcher demonstrated at SOURCE Boston how he was able to hack Zoombak's popular personal tracking devices.""

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Where 2.0: Apple’s iPhone and iPad 3G Recording User Locations

It's not the first time privacy issues arise from mobile devices. Today at the Where 2.0 conference, there was a talk on the discovery that your iPhone, and your 3G iPad, is regularly recording the position of your device into a hidden file. From the O'Reilly Radar: "Ever since iOS 4 arrived, your device has been storing a long list of locations and time stamps. We're not sure why Apple is gathering this data, but it's clearly intentional, as the database is being restored across backups, and even device migrations. [...] What makes this issue worse is that the file is unencrypted and unprotected, and it's on any machine you've synched with your iOS device. It can also be easily accessed on the device itself if it falls into the wrong hands. Anybody with access to this file knows where you've been over the last year, since iOS 4 was released. [...] We have built an application that helps you look at your own data. It's available at petewarden along with the source code and deeper technical information. [...] An immediate step you can take is to encrypt your backups through iTunes (click on your device within iTunes and then check "Encrypt iPhone Backup" under the "Options" area)." This topic was also discussed over Slashdot today.

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Involuntary Geolocation To Within One Kilometer

Found on slashdot, here is their summary : Schneier's blog tips an article about research into geolocation that can track down a computer's location from its IP address to within 690 meters on average without voluntary disclosure from the target. Quoting:

"The first stage measures the time it takes to send a data packet to the target and converts it into a distance – a common geolocation technique that narrows the target's possible location to a radius of around 200 kilometers. Wang and colleagues then send data packets to the known Google Maps landmark servers in this large area to find which routers they pass through. When a landmark machine and the target computer have shared a router, the researchers can compare how long a packet takes to reach each machine from the router; converted into an estimate of distance, this time difference narrows the search down further. 'We shrink the size of the area where the target potentially is,' explains Wang. Finally, they repeat the landmark search at this more fine-grained level: comparing delay times once more, they establish which landmark server is closest to the target."
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‘Creepy’ - An Open Source Geolocation Information Aggregator

Slashdot runs a story named 'Man Creates "Creepy" Stalking App' on the new open source geolocation information aggregator software named 'creepy'. The Slashdot summary: "Creepy, a package described as a 'geolocation information aggregator,' is turning heads in privacy circles, but should people be worried? Yiannis Kakavas explains why he developed his scary stalking application. Creepy is a software package for Linux or Windows — with a Mac OS X port in the works — that aims to gather public information on a targeted individual via social networking services in order to pinpoint their location. It's remarkably efficient at its job, even in its current early form, and certainly lives up to its name when you see it in use for the first time." The description of creepy by its author: "creepy is an application that allows you to gather geolocation related information about users from social networking platforms and image hosting services. The information is presented in a map inside the application where all the retrieved data is shown accompanied with relevant information (i.e. what was posted from that specific location) to provide context to the presentation." This obviously reminded me of the PleaseRobMe website we mentioned over a year ago.

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German Politician Demonstrates Extent of Cellphone Location Tracking

Slashdot runs a discussion named German Politician Demonstrates Extent of Cellphone Location Tracking. Their summary: "Deutsche Telekom is tracking its customers' locations and saving the information: '.... as a German Green party politician, Malte Spitz, recently learned, we are already continually being tracked whether we volunteer to be or not. Cellphone companies do not typically divulge how much information they collect, so Mr. Spitz went to court to find out exactly what his cellphone company, Deutsche Telekom, knew about his whereabouts. The results were astounding. In a six-month period — from Aug 31, to Feb. 28, Deutsche Telekom had recorded and saved his longitude and latitude coordinates more than 35,000 times. It traced him from a train on the way to Erlangen at the start through to that last night, when he was home in Berlin. Mr. Spitz has provided a rare glimpse — an unprecedented one, privacy experts say — of what is being collected as we walk around with our phones."

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Monday Geonews: OpenCycleMap, Lybia and World Unrest Maps, LightSquared GPS Signal Jamming Update, and much more

Here's the recent geonews that haven't made it into an individual story in batch mode. From the open source / open data front:

  • While we mentioned it indirectly in the past, we never specifically mentioned the existence of OpenCycleMap, based, of course, on OpenStreetMap
  • The "open" MapQuest maps now support worldwide pedestrian and bicycle routing along with transit routes
  • An article in Scientific American is using OpenStreetMap data to map the local 'food desert'
  • The OpenGeo Suite Enterprise Edition 2.4.0 has been released
From the ESRI front:
  • ESRI released their ArcGIS API for JavaScript version 2.2
  • A third entry on useful ArcGIS Explorer add-ins III
In the everything-else category:
  • GeoCurrents offers an informative serie of entries on Libyan maps: Libya’s Tribal Divisions and the Nation-State, Libya’s Geographical Divisions and the Challenge to National Unity, Libya’s Fezzan: A Bulwark of the Gaddafi Regime , Gaddafi’s Saharan Farming Schemes and Libyan Agricultural Hexagons. On the same topic, TMR shares an entry on the Libya Crisis Map
  • Rememer that GPS positioning in the U.S. is in danger because of LightSquared? APB shares a followup including the mention of the 'Coalition to Save Our GPS'
  • Following the earthquake in New Zealand, there's fresh imagery of Christchurch
  • Google and Microsoft have teamed together to sue a patent troll who sued 397 companies over a geotagging patent
  • Microsoft offers an entry on modular design and client side clustering with Bing Maps V7
  • O'Reilly offers an article on location privacy named Privacy law needs a reboot
  • A followup on a previous story, Slashdot discusses a student suing the FBI for planting a GPS tracker on his car. On this topic, SpatialLaw offers an entry named Government's Use of Tracking Technology: More Than A Constitutional Issue?
  • It seems the FAA now allows iPad as an alternative to aviation charts
  • TMR links to a review of Casio's geotagging camera
  • APB mentions that Turtles Use Earth’s Magnetic Field to Determine Longitude
  • In a perspective entry, SS asks Is it time for an impartial auditing board on spatial data accuracy?
In the maps category:
  • TMR shares a map of the index of potential unrest, on this topic, some claims Google Earth as a Factor in Middle East Unrest
  • TMR shares a map of internal U.S. migration flows
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Beijing To Track Citizen’s Cell Phones

Slashdot discusses a story named Beijing To Track Citizen's Cell Phones. Their summary: "Purportedly to help alleviate Beijing 's traffic congestion, the new initiative, literally translated as 'Platform for Citizen Movement Information' proposes to track individual citizen's movement in real time via cell phone signals. Cell phones will be automatically registered at cell towers as soon as they are switched on. The rest is just like the phone tracking you see every week on CSI."

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US Authorities GPS Tagging Duped Indian Students and Connecticut StreetView Settlement

Slashdot currently discusses a story named US Authorities GPS Tagging Duped Indian Students. Their summary: "Indian students duped by Tri-Valley University in California have been fitted with GPS devices by US immigration authorities. Scores of Indian students were caught in a scam where the university violated immigration norms and illegally got the students F1 visa and immigration status. To keep a track on the movements of the students, the authorities have fitted them with GPS devices. This is spiraling into a major diplomatic row between India and the USA, with the former calling the practice inhuman and unwanted." A geo-related story discussed by Slashdot during the weekend was named Connecticut AG Opts For Street View Settlement, Without Seeing the Data. Their summary: "Verifying Google's data snare is crucial to assessing a penalty and assuring no repeat,' said Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal last December in response to Google's 'accidental' collection of payload data from WiFi networks. 'We will fight to compel Google to come clean-granting my office access to improperly collected materials and protecting confidentiality, as the company has done in Canada and elsewhere.' That was then. Luckily for Google, there's a new AG in town, and Blumenthal successor George Jepsen said Friday that his office will enter into settlement negotiations with the company without reviewing the pilfered data, which Google has steadfastly refused to share with it. 'This is a good result for the people of Connecticut,' Jepsen said in a statement. A separate Jepsen press release suggested some of the blame for the privacy offenses laid with Google's victims, who were advised to 'turn off your wireless network when you know you won't use it' to thwart those who 'may be watching your Internet activity without your knowledge."

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Connecticut AG Wants Google’s Wi-Fi Street View Data

In what seems like a never ending publicity nightmare for Google, or a photo opportunity for others...here is another Street View privacy case that has popped up. From Cnet News : "Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who has been leading a cadre of attorneys general investigating Google's Wi-Fi Street View data gathering, formally ordered the search giant today to hand over data gathered during the years it operated Street View cars. He issued a civil investigative demand, a legal order similar to a subpoena, after Google refused to provide the data after less formal requests, according to a statement released by his office."

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