iPhone and Android Tracking You for Apple and Google

-Submitted by David Drumm (Nal), Guest Blogger

iPhones and Android smartphones regularly transmit their locations back to Apple and Google. The location information is used for the estimated $2.9 billion location-based services market. Location-based advertising targets consumers with location-specific advertising on their mobile devices.

According to research, the HTC Android phone collects location information every few seconds and transmits the data back to Google several times an hour.

Privacy experts are concerned with this new form of tracking. The Obama administration has petitioned SCOTUS for cert in a case in which a lower court reversed a criminal conviction because the police did not obtain a warrant for the GPS device they secreted on the suspect’s car. Other appeals courts have ruled that search warrants aren’t required for GPS tracking.

If the Obama administration gets its way, the government will have access to warrantless GPS tracking data. The information received by Apple and Google could be simultaneously sent to government agencies without your knowledge. The National Surveillance State may just get a new toy.

Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) has fired off a letter to Apple CEO Steve Jobs demanding the company explain why it’s collecting the tracking data. My guess: money.

According to Apple, GPS and cell tower data collected by the device and transmitted to Apple is assigned a random identification number that cannot be associated with a particular customer or device. Although, Apple could easily and secretly change this as part of a software “upgrade.” iPhone customers also have the option of disabling location-based service capabilities under the “General” menu under “Settings.” If this option is disabled, no location information will be collected. The more iPhone users that opt-out, the less location-based service revenue for Apple.

Is there a reasonable expectation of privacy regarding the tracking data? If you’re out in public, other people can see where you are. What about accessing the tracking information that includes your position on private property?

Michigan State Police may be using forensic cellphone analyzers during routine traffic stops. The CelleBrite UFED can completely extract existing, hidden, and deleted phone data, including call history, text messages, contacts, images, and tracking data. If police have warrantless access to your cellphone’s tracking data, the tagline will become “let me see your driver’s license, registration, proof of insurance, and cellphone.”

H/T: Reuterscnet, WSJ, FourthAmendment.comTechland.

38 thoughts on “iPhone and Android Tracking You for Apple and Google”

  1. Hello there! This article could not be written any better!
    Looking through this article reminds me of my previous
    roommate! He continually kept talking about this. I most certainly will
    send this article to him. Fairly certain he will have a great read.

    Many thanks for sharing!

  2. It has in the contract you sign with both that they have the ability to do that. Secondly Apple has the an on or off button. Thirdly, the towers can only register the location of phones to a general area if the location services are off on the phone. Seriously if people are just realizing the phone is tracked after forever going to maps and it already having your location then America is more idiotic than I thought. People need to learn how to mobile proxy and tunnel if they want to get around it and still use all the nice features. As for the tracking people need to read the license agreements before signing them and if they don’t then they shouldn’t complain about something they agreed to.

  3. Better yet … let’s get a couple of good hackers and turn on the Koch siblings’ phones … or Scott Walker’s … or … yeah, you get the drift

  4. Hey … if one can get access to the info, couldn’t one also prove one wasn’t where the police claim one was … or … perhaps send one’s phone here whilst one goes there … or … hmmm … perhaps it is time to start thinking like a criminal

    Good storyline for a novel …

  5. if you’re worried about big brother then just push the on-star button in your car and tell them to take you off the list. works every time

  6. “Blouise
    1, April 24, 2011 at 6:02 pm
    This is all very frightening especially in the hands of the government. Isn’t it just a hop skip and a jump to their claiming you were somewhere you weren’t based on phony (no pun intended) GPS info?”

    Um, probably not.

    Your phone company has the same information.

    And there’s a good chance many of the apps on your phone are sharing that information with their developers to provide you location based services.

    And if you turn on Google Latitude, google is mapping you as well.

    Now, apparently, the FBI can turn on certain phones and listen to their microphone input, even when the phone is turned off — but that’s the kind of modification to your phone the gov’t needs to be able to do.

    If they can get Apple/HTC/Motorola/… to put that code in to everyone’s phone to submit phony GPS, well, well, well that’s certainly not the hope and change I voted for.

  7. @puzzling, please don’t take offense. I found it interesting.

    I submitted it to FARK as:

    “The US Mail Truck is now used for Government Street View, Radiological Detection, Wifi War Driving, Chemical Agent Dispersant. Project has moved from Netflix/NSA labs into full operation”

    But it was redlit.

  8. I use a pay as you go phone with no extras from Virgin Mobile. It is also the very cheapest cell phone you can find. I wonder if it has GPS in it. When it goes bellyup, I worry that something like that won’t be available. But, maybe it will last as long as I last. (I just turned 65 and cannot bother with this new technology.) Only my closest friends have this cell number; all other people have to call on my land line.

  9. @anon,

    The link to the original Popular Science article was banned by WordPress, so I used a website that reprinted it the original.

    Here is a link to the original article through Google, if that makes you feel better about its legitimacy.

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