Warning to iPhone & Ipad – Big Brother tracks you!

You may have read or heard in the Press in the last few days

“The iPhone and iPad collects data that shows when the user was at each location with a timestamp. The information is downloaded to the user’s computer each time the iPad or iPhone is synced. “

I’ve seen fictional programs like Crime Scene Investigation on Channel 5, magically recover location history from phones and GPS devices fitted in cars to provide evidence to convict criminals. – I’ve always thought this was rediculous until now, and just good TV Drama!

So it had me thinking, so I started poking around in the backup data that iTunes stores on your computer.

iTunes stores the backup in the following locations

on a Windows XP Computer

C:\Documents and Settings\<USERNAME>\Application Data\Apple Computer\MobileSync\Backup

on a Vista/Windows 7 computer it’s stored in

C:\Users\<USERNAME>\AppData\Roaming\Apple Computer\MobileSync\Backup\

where <USERNAME> is the user you use to login to your computer.

In the Backup folder is a folder which looks like a GUID (long hex number!) and in that is the files that itunes uses to backup your iphone or ipad and all the settings.

it looks something like this:-


This folder contains many files, with similar filenames, it didn’t take me long to find the file I was looking for, if you search all files for the keywords TABLE Wifi or one of the following keywords Timestamp FLOAT, Latitude FLOAT, Longitude – once you found this file use this file to extract the data. (I’ve since discovered that this file is always appended to when you sync your Apple device, so once you found the file, just use this file to extract the data always).

This log file readily identifies itself as a SQLite format 3 database file, which is good news because using the Firefox 4.0 Add-On, we can examine the data in the database (SQLite Manager Add-on only works with Firefox 4.0, so you’ll need to upgrade!).

Install the SQLite Manager add-on, and use menu option Database/Select Database/Connect Database and open the database file you found above (just change to All files in the pick list).

You should end up with a display as follows

Using SQLite Manager to open Location file from iPhone/iPad

Using SQLite Manager to open Location file from iPhone/iPad

The table we are interested in is called CellLocation, so select Tables, CellLocation

WOW the data is there!

It would seem that the Iphone and iPad 3G version, logs the locations of mobile Cell Locations used by the device, MMC, MNC, Cell Id and LAC,  Latitude and Longitude are logged against a timestamp (number of seconds since January 1 2001).

I would suggest either deleting the file, or using the iTunes option to encrypt databackups on your computer, unless you want this file to be used in evidence against you! (remember if you ever lose you iPhone or iPad, it can be jailbroken and this information can be retreived or synced to another computer for the information to be extracted from your Apple device – so if you get caught, destroy your device!). (just hope your Wife or Girlfriend, doesn’t get hold of the file if you’ve been “playing away!” – enough said!).

My ipad locations since I've owned it!

My ipad locations since I've owned it!

I don’t often turn on 3G on the iPad, I use a E585 – MiFi, but I’m going to check if that makes a difference, because I think it’s the 3G data which is tracked!

iPad on vaction in Japan!

iPad on vaction in Japan!

Tracking is global! (as can be seen from the above when I took the iPad to Japan!)

So how do we get this information into a nice Google Maps display. Simple,

  1. Use SQLite Manager to export the data to a CSV, highlight the table CellLocation, right-click, Select Export Table, CSV (comma), select OK.
  2. Import the CSV into Excel, remove all columns except Latitude and Longitud.
  3. Save the file as a CSV.
  4. Using GPS Visualizer, import the data for a nice location map with your locations highlighted!


Post to Twitter

Tags: ,