A pair of security researchers today announced
that they are sounding the privacy warning bell about the capability of iOS 4 to track the location of an iPhone or iPad on an ongoing basis, storing the data to a hidden file known as "consolidated.db" in the form of latitude and longitude and a timestamp for each point.
All iPhones appear to log your location to a file called "consolidated.db." This contains latitude-longitude coordinates along with a timestamp. The coordinates aren't always exact, but they are pretty detailed. There can be tens of thousands of data points in this file, and it appears the collection started with iOS 4, so there's typically around a year's worth of information at this point. Our best guess is that the location is determined by cell-tower triangulation, and the timing of the recording is erratic, with a widely varying frequency of updates that may be triggered by traveling between cells or activity on the phone itself.
While the consolidated.db file has been known for some time and has played a key role in forensic investigations of iOS devices by law enforcement agencies, the researchers note the data is available on the devices themselves and in backups in unencrypted and unprotected form, leading to significant privacy concerns. Once gathered, the data is saved in backups, restored to devices if necessary, and even migrated across devices, offering a lengthy history of a user's movement.
The researchers, Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden, have also put together a downloadable application
that allows users to view the location data stored in backup files on their computers. Allan and Warden have reached out to Apple for comment but have yet to receive a response, and in the meantime recommend that users encrypt their iPhone and iPad backups for increased security.