Since the early days of cell phones, it’s been possible for people to find other people based just on the location of their device. Back then it was a hard process, and many would have imagined that it was just for law enforcement agencies to utilize. But in today’s world, finding out where someone is can be as easy as looking at Foursquare, or Facebook’s Places, or even Google Latitude. People are quick to pronounce where they are and what they’re doing, but they do it because they’re using a service that, as far as they can tell, is seen only by their friends. But when people start finding out that their phone is tracking their every move without their consent, things get hairy.
And rightfully so, if you keep that part about doing things without people’s consent. If people don’t know something is happening, and they find out later that it’s been happening the whole time “behind their back,” they tend to have a negative reaction. Especially when it invades their privacy, or seems to give people the ability to find where they are at all times, or where they’ve been. That’s what is going on with the iPhone right now – the device is tracking you all the time, and storing the information on your device. Not just where you’ve been recently, but throughout the life of the phone. Furthermore, it’s uploading the information every time you plug the handset into your computer and connect to iTunes.
Bad news, right? Potentially. Let’s get one thing into the open right away, though: iOS 4 and the iPhone (and iPad) aren’t the only mobile operating system and handset(s) that do this. Android does it, too. Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 and HP’s webOS do it, too. But, all of these systems handle it differently. If you’ve ever set up an Android device, then you’ve probably seen the part about setting up location services on your device. Android tells you right up-front that it’s going to store your location and use it, so it can access that cached data and make your location-based applications work better. Even Android apps tell you when they’re going to use location services.
And Windows Phone 7 applications do this, too. In fact, Windows Phone 7 lets you know a couple different times if you’re going to use something on the device that uses your location. At these times, you have the option to tell it no, that you’d rather keep your location to yourself. iOS-based apps do this, and you get iOS’ pop-up notification just to make sure that you don’t miss the warning. But, truth be told, that’s different than knowing your device is tracking your every move, and storing it on the device.
This is a problem if someone you don’t know (or don’t like) gets ahold of your phone. These people can find a way to that information and learn where you’ve been, and if you have an iPhone, learn where you’ve been through the whole time you’ve owned your phone. It’s possible to get an application on your device that can steal this information, but that’s relatively rare. But, these are things that people should worry about. The same for worrying about someone getting ahold of their contact list, their photos, or any other personal information they have on the device that they’d rather keep out of a stranger’s grasp.
These devices are meant to cache this information to make sure that your location-based applications and services work better. It means they don’t have to dredge up the information from the start every single time you launch a service. Could Apple design later versions of iOS to store that information a little differently? Yeah, probably. But just keep in mind it isn’t public information floating around for everyone to get their hands on. How do you handle location services on your device? Do you shut it all down? Or are you not worried about this type of thing affecting you? Let me know in the comments.