Home opinion-and-analysis Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Thoughts on the iPhone 'tracking' beat-up

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Following the media frenzy over the Apple iPhone's exposé for supposedly tracking users' movements, it might be unwise to point out the obvious.

The average media feeding frenzy (particularly in the tech arena) requires four key components.

First we need a 'scary' or high-profile target; the recent critical infrastructure hoax was a perfect example of the former, Apple (the subject of this article) is a perfect example of the latter.

Secondly we need a clueless press; the more sycophantic about the product affected and the less technically aware the better.

Next, we need so-called experts to weigh in on the topic in a very public fashion.  Of course the requirement that they be operating well outside their area of expertise goes without saying.

Added to all this is the manner of reporting.  Does anyone recall those rabid chain-emails describing some fake computer virus as "the worst Microsoft [or some other tech company, but usually Microsoft] has ever seen?"

So, keeping all that in mind, let's turn our attention to the foam-at-the-mouth reporting of the location file 'discovered' on all devices running iOS v4 (that's iPads, iPhones and iPods).

It all started with a report from Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden of O'Reilly media which stated in part, Today at Where 2.0 Pete Warden and I will announce the discovery that your iPhone, and your 3G iPad, is regularly recording the position of your device into a hidden file. Ever since iOS 4 arrived, your device has been storing a long list of locations and time stamps. We're not sure why Apple is gathering this data, but it's clearly intentional, as the database is being restored across backups, and even device migrations.

Kind-of emotive language, doing you think?  (component 4 above, check!)

Of course, within a heart-beat, the popular press grabbed hold of the story and thus commenced the beat-up.

First of all, it is suggested that readers visit Apple terms-of-service page.

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David Heath

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David Heath has over 25 years experience in the IT industry, specializing particularly in customer support, security and computer networking. Heath has worked previously as head of IT for The Television Shopping Network, as the network and desktop manager for Armstrong Jones (a major funds management organization) and has consulted into various Australian federal government agencies (including the Department of Immigration and the Australian Bureau of Criminal Intelligence). He has also served on various state, national and international committees for Novell Users International; he was also the organising chairman for the 1994 Novell Users' Conference in Brisbane. Heath is currently employed as an Instructional Designer, building technical training courses for industrial process control systems.

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