You might have heard by now: your iPhone is tracking you.
The big news came last Wednesday, when a couple of Brits released a video showing how they could plot their travels on a map using a single file stored on their iPhone 4. The file is called consolidated.db, and as that two-letter extension implies, it’s a database, storing information about cellular towers as your phone comes within range of them.
Every technology blog and news site has since been trying to parse exactly what this means. Is it the final proof that Apple is, indeed, evil? Is it one small piece of evidence supporting the overwhelming conclusion that privacy is dead? Is it yet more over-paranoid hype?
Step right up and get your 100-percent definitive answers here, folks.
First off, here’s what this information is NOT:
• New: The current story, as Engadget.com points out, is about visualizing this data on a map. The existence and contents of consolidated.db has been known ever since iOS 4, the operating system on the iPhone 4, came out. Apple never really advertised this “feature,” but it’s been there all along. That there was little hubbub until the maps were shown says more about a public consuming news in pictures than it does about Apple.
• Unique: Guess what? Your cell phone company — be it AT&T, Sprint, Verizon or anyone else — knows where you are. It doesn’t matter if your phone runs iOS, Android, S60, WebOS, the Blackberry operating system or simple non-smartphone software. The whole concept of cellular phones necessitates being able to connect to a specific device that can be in many locations. The phone connects with the nearest tower, and the tower knows that. Of course your service provider is going to know where you are; that’s how they provide you with service.
That’s not to say there’s nothing worrying about having an unencrypted file with a record of your tower connections sitting on your phone. Anyone with access to your phone, or the computers to which you’ve synced it, now has that information.
… along with all your contacts. Sure, maybe they can reconstruct your daily schedule and follow you. But handing someone the phone numbers and addresses of the people most precious to you isn’t exactly reassuring either. No matter what phone you have, maybe you shouldn’t be letting it out of your sight, huh? Besides, there are other ways to look at consolidated.db.
• It’s a feature, not a bug. Some people pay hundreds of dollars for GPS service on their phone, or for standalone GPS recorders that save their location every few minutes. Here’s a device that’s always been advertised as being able to do anything imaginable with the right app, and a tracking app is built right in! Suspect your sweetie of cheating? Buy them an iPhone and check the log! Really, it’s a private eye’s best friend.
• Publicity brings scrutiny. As I said earlier, this saved data has been known about since the current iPhone was released. It might not have gotten a lot of mainstream attention, but you can bet that sneaks with ill intent had taken note. Now that fear has been whipped up in the general populace, either Apple will make a change to the software or you can periodically delete the file yourself.
Now get out there and show your phone the world.