Where in the world are you?

Iphone location map

A peek at location data sorted on an Iphone

For the last week, the tech news has been reporting that Apple has secret files on the iPhone that track user location and store it on the device, without the permission of the device owner. It’s unclear what the data is used for and why Apple has been collecting it in iOS products that carry a 3G antenna for nearly a year now.

There’s no evidence of that information being sent to Apple or anybody else. Even so, the data is unencrypted, giving anyone with access to your phone or computer where backups may be stored a way to grab the data and extrapolate a person’s whereabouts and routines.

Soon after this announcement, Microsoft and Android fessed up as well—stating that their devices collected records of the physical locations of customers who use their mobile operating system. Microsoft does say, however, that location histories are not saved directly on the device. That’s different from Apple’s practice of recording the locations of visible cell towers on iPhone and iPad devices, which can result in more than a year’s worth of data being quietly logged. Google’s approach, by contrast, records only the last few dozen locations on Android phones.

All of these practices have come under scrutiny by members of congress and several attorneys General of some states.

Note this isn’t the data that you allow to happen—like our Ipad asking whether or not it can use location services to see if I’m close to a gas station. This is data being recorded without permission. To make applications like maps work, of course, it’s necessary for a smartphone Ipad to transmit its GPS coordinates to a remote server–and, in exchange, receive nearby restaurant reviews, or driving directions, and so on.

Privacy concerns begin to arise when a unique device ID is transmitted, which allows a company to track a customer’s whereabouts over an extended period of time. That’s the privacy issue.

As marketers at Force 5, we’re always interested in how our advertising or marketing campaigns are doing—are they reaching the right audiences, are we getting responses? However, the unauthorized location services on smartphones is going too far. Tracking minute by minute locations is certainly an invasion of privacy. This will be in the news for a while as a good balance of location services for convenience and safety versus invasion of privacy issues are debated. Stay tuned. To read more, check out cnet.com