iPhone iSpy: Tracking Means Many Things

It seems that the story about Apple’s location tracking has widened quite a bit since going to the Senate and additional hearings have been called:

Apple Location-Tracking Drama Extends to Carriers, Prompts Hearing – Mobile and Wireless – News & Reviews – eWeek.com.

These hearings might possibly lead to some genuinely important and helpful laws to enhance our individual privacy.

But since the word “tracking” is getting used a lot, there is an important point that is likely to get lost in the public debate. That is: it doesn’t matter if Apple or Google (who produce the Android Operating System that powers many other smart phones) or AT&T are “tracking” your location. What matters is that information about your whereabouts for the last year or more are available to… anyone.

I should also point out that smart phones logging nearby wifi locations and other data points makes perfect sense to me as a developer: developers are always looking for the most efficient means of delivering content, the better to enhance the user experience. So, keeping record of the spots the user will likely revisit is a good idea, in a purely theoretical programmatic bubble.

The trouble is: if that data is available and not encrypted in some fashion, then not just the developer but any person with access to your phone can access this data. Bluetooth and wifi make having access to your phone a lot less personal than you might think, too.

I am not writing to raise the red flag of panic, either: very simple measures can solve these problems. Encrypting the data would be sufficient. But if the public debate centers on the companies like Apple “snooping” on their customers, we’ll get sidetracked by trust issues.