Paranoid: Where am I?
Apple: In the Village.
Paranoid: What do you want?
Apple: We want information.
Paranoid: Whose side are you on?
Apple: That would be telling. We want information… information… information.
Paranoid: You won’t get it.
Apple: By hook or by crook, we will.
Paranoid: Who are you?
Apple: The new Number 2.
Paranoid: Who is Number 1?
Apple: You are Number 6.
Paranoid: I am not a number, I am a free man

(The Prisoner, the classic TV series from the 60’s

Oh, you don’t remember? with the funny little car, gigantic balloon and no end…)

Gizmodo has recently published a good comparison between the different mobile OS and how they track our location and location history.

It came a short while after the panic caused by the discovery about iPhone’s’ location cache which actually stored all the location points your phone has been to. That’s right: all your coordinates are tracked (using GPS, cellular location (Cell tower triangulation) and WiFi) and cached.

The cache is never sent to Apple of course, but if someone puts his hands on your handset or computer backup… you are screwed, a goner, finished, kaput. This someone can definitely track all of your movements since… well, since you purchased your iPhone 4… or upgraded your iOS version!

Of course immediately after this discovery, many iPhone users immediately switched to Android. That includes:

  • Burglars
  • People who cheat
  • People who leave their office for hours without anyone noticing
  • Kids running away from school
  • Teachers running away from school
  • Thieves
  • Wizards
  • Dragons
  • Other D&D characters
  • People who share their entire life in Facebook and Twitter but for some reasons find this to be offensive…
  • Murderers
  • Terrorists
  • People who deal with terrorist but can’t effort to be tracked by terrorists…
  • The cable guy who asked me to lie for him and approve he visited me when in fact he did not.

Anyways, back to Gizmodo, a short while after the panic started, came the second wave: people discovered Android and other mobile platforms are also keeping track of their location. Ha ha! Weird! After all – at least 70% of Android apps give you a warning before downloading specifically saying: "this app will access your… contacts, calendar, personal info, sex life… and also location…" but I guess no one really reads warnings… (one of the first rules you learn as a developer is never to write something important in those warnings since no one will notice anyway).

So to be on the safe side: here’s a little guide about the data each platform is keeping track of:


(Source)

If you ask me, it doesn’t really matter. If you have something to hide, you need to get rid of your phone anyways, or close it and say your battery ran out. People are accessible nowadays and excuses like: "I didn’t hear the phone", "I couldn’t answer" will not hold more than a couple times before you get into troubles anyhow. That’s the life we are living in: everything is accessible, everyone is accessible, too many things are shared anyhow, which means hiding things, or protecting your privacy is becoming much more challenging.

This post was originally written for The Mobile Spoon

9 COMMENTS

  1. Maybe if OJ owned an iPhone he’d be free. If the .db don’t fit you must acquit.

    Much ado with this whole thing if you ask me. Besides the data is wildly inaccurate and if it’s for something like traffic data aggregation I’m alll for it. But it didn’t look like this is even doing any triangulation, rather just pinning you to whatever tower you’re on. And I always assumed google was crowdsourcing wifi AP collection like this. If it means having to rely on gps much less in order to get your location, that’s a good thing in my book. Maybe Microsoft could get on board that train now instead of telling themselves that they’ll just let google expose themselves to the heat and thrn somehow leech it from google maps usage with Suggested Sites enabled.

    Good stuff Gil keep it up. Nice to see some actual well-written journalism here instead of Simmons ranting and Smith plugging more stupid bluetooth earpieces.

  2. “If you have something to hide…”
    I will never understand this argument. I’m not a thief either so should I be okay with walking into a department store and being followed around by store employees or security?

    “…protecting your privacy is becoming much more challenging.”
    So we should just accept it?

    It is absolutely naive to believe that all of this data mining is being done for the betterment of the user. What did these companies do before this tech was available? From my pov all of these services are no better or worse than they were in the last decade.
    And how are ads directed directly to me useful? Lets take into consideration that these ads are not guaranteeing me good service nor a better deal. Bottom line is they belong to the highest bidder, period. If I tell friends, family or even coworkers I’m in the market for a new car, more than likely they will have my best interest at heart and tell me about their experiences and direct me where to go and not to go. Will these ads do that? And I’m guessing some of these highest bidders intends to make up for that bid.

    I honestly don’t know if this article is based on naivete or an attempt to deceive. Because the fact of the matter is, these companies are collecting a whole lot more than whats on that chart. And common sense should tell us based on everything that we use our devices for and the countless data being collected, they know a lot more than just anonymous info.

  3. @brev:

    I didn’t try to deceive anyone (at least not in purpose, that is…).
    I agree in general that storing user information is annoying, and most ads are useless, but the world is changing.

    People tag me in their facebook pictures without getting my approval first, it’s annoying.
    Sites are sending me spam all the time – it’s annoying as well.

    However, there might be useful features in the combination of content, status and location:
    Let’s say I placed some pictures of my new baby born on facebook, and then in a “magical” way, when I’m at the mall, I’m getting a text message with a coupon, or some details about a sale for diapers in one of the stores in that mall I’m walking in…
    Freaky I know, but if it works well (and quality of content is the key here) – it might become useful, don’t you think?

    There was this movie (forgot the name) where they placed a chip in people’s heads to directly broadcast 3D ads in people’s minds. A creepy future… Anyone remembers the name of the movie?

  4. Maybe deceive was a strong word but none the less, the whole story isn’t in this article or the chart. Also, it’s not just THIS article (apologies for singling this one out). But everywhere I look there seems to be a down playing of the magnitude of this business model. And for those of us that like our privacy the magnitude is great.

    It’s great when the world is changing but for the most part none of these particular changes is for the best or necessarily in our, the users interest. It’s only to line these companies pockets with more monies. While they are selling our personal information, what do we or will we have to show for it, coupons? Meanwhile, nothing’s getting cheaper until they have something better to sell us.

    Google for example – they are a MULTIBILLION dollar company with mostly all of its product and services given to users for free. How is that even possible? Exploiting those users maybe.

  5. in regards to someone following you around a store even though your not a thief… if you dont like it, shop elsewhere.

    if people actually boycotted anything anymore (i mean actually boycotted) then maybe we would see some things change. if everyone stopped buying smartphones just because of this im certain apple android and windows phones would change these practices no matter how much faster they would get location services to customers. same goes for your store. if you dont want him to follow you dont stop there. it was mob mentality that got us to this point it will be mob mentality to get us out of this point

  6. @sm0k3ydaband1t: – I couldn’t agree more. But people are too self-absorbed to expect anything like this these days. Boycotting was the shit back in the day (tho I wasn’t around for it). One of the great ones that comes to mind was the Montgomery bus boycott (Rosa Parks)…. Today nobody can live without their Agree Birds, Facebook posts and celeb tweets. They would rather give-up oxygen first.

  7. our nation is definately in a sorry state right now. i really think if alot more people listened to DR jims psychology of technology posts we might fare a bit better in taking a step back and looking at the whole picture but america is definately in a state of techno drunkeness right now, its sad that it will probably take a large (and most likely unfortunate) event to change the way america thinks right now, i just hope it comes sooner rather than later.

  8. Well put. But I would much rather if society came to its sense without the unfortunate event. These companies are raping us over these devices (look at the telco’s: unlimited data… but) and we just go along. Everyday their balls get ever so bigger.

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