Some Apple fan bloggers have fallen all over themselves making excuses after Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden publicized the existence of a secret location-tracking file on all iPhones.
The unsecured and unencrypted file keeps the location records endlessly and with time and date attached. Anyone with access to the phone or the computer where the phone is synced can grab a full record of the owner's movements, whether for law enforcement purposes, a divorce case, snooping or whatever. And Apple has said nothing about why the file exists or how it uses the data.
The excuses are pretty lame.
1. The existence of the file had been reported before. Not sure why this matters or helps Apple's case. But Allan and Warden note:
The main reason we went public with this was exactly because it already seemed to be an open secret among people who make their living doing forensic phone analysis, but not among the general public — even pretty geeky people like Alasdair and me. We were freaked out by the implications of this data and how unprotected it was, but most of the forensics community seemed to miss quite how creepy ordinary people would find it.
2. Apple is not collecting the data. One of the funniest posts offering this excuse was by Alex Levinson who seems to have written some Orwellian software called Lantern to grab the data and track users movements. That the phone is storing and collecting this endless history record without users' permission in an unsecure way ought to be enough of a concern. And Apple hasn't said why the file exists or what it's doing with the data.
3. (One of my faves) Google does it, too. Like that would make it okay for Apple to do it. But sadly, for Apple fans at least, the location listing file on Android phones just keeps locations from the past few hours and throws away old data when it's replaced with fresher data. That's what you'd expect -- caching location information so apps can get it without having to ping GPS every five minutes. Even John Gruber seemed to get that Android "is doing it right."
4. The locations aren't very accurate. This is another silly one. Sure, it might be worse if the file tracked your exact location down to 5 feet but that doesn't mean it's okay to track you within a mile. The locations are in many cases much more specific (individual wifi routers not just cell phone towers). Also, there's a lot of confusion around the precision issue because the crude mapping app that Allan and Warden cooked up shows locations much less precisely that what's included in the actual iPhone file.
What are your thoughts?