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You are being iTracked

Posted by Carol Rose, On Liberty  April 25, 2011 03:27 PM

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Attention iPhone and iPad users! You should know that your device is regularly recording your location and sending this information back to Apple. In addition, researchers have now found that this information is being stored indefinitely in an unencrypted and readily-accessible file on your phone (apparently even if you have disabled location services !).

(Android users aren’t entirely off the hook: your devices also regularly collect and send location data to Google and store some information on the phone, although less data is stored on the phone and users can disable this data collection without disabling location-based services entirely.)

Why should you care? Because tracking your every move paints a vivid picture of your life: your visits to the doctor’s office, attendance at a labor protest or prayer meeting, and more. And since the data on your iPhone is poorly protected, anyone who steals or even borrows your phone (or your computer, if you sync your phone’s data) could track your travel with dangerous precision, knowing what time you leave for work, the route you take, and when you return home.

And your location information that is sent back to Apple and Google isn’t necessarily safe either. Because the laws protecting electronic information were written in the “digital dark ages,” the government claims that it can require companies to turn over location information even without a search warrant. Sprint complied with over 8 million requests for location information over a 13 month period. Are Apple and Google receiving similar requests?

Today’s handheld devices have enabled us to become a more connected world. But using this technology shouldn’t mean we have to give up control over sensitive information about where we go and what we do. Information is power – especially in the information age. It’s time for us to take back control of our personal data.

The political momentum to do this is already starting – and Massachusetts elected officials are leading the way.

Sen. John Kerry has proposed an online consumer privacy bill in the Senate. It’s a good start, although in his desire to win bipartisan support from Senator John McCain, Sen. Kerry dropped provisions of the law that would have protected against secret location-based tracking. Perhaps this week’s headlines will convince Sen. Kerry to put that provision back into the bill before it comes to a vote.

We also should thank Massachusetts Congressman Ed Markey for using his political clout to issue a public letter to Apple asking why they are gathering location information, what they are doing with it and whether consumers can turn the data collection off without losing the advantages of location-based services entirely.

In fact, if you are one of Congressman Markey’s constituents, you can thank him now for asking these important questions.

You shouldn’t have to choose between using an iPhone and keeping your location history private. Please join us in supporting efforts by Rep. Markey and others to upgrade privacy law to match our modern technology.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Carol Rose is executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. A lawyer and journalist, Carol has spent her career working for and writing about human rights and civil liberties, both in the United States and abroad. More »

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