Apple's iPhone 4 Tracks Where It's Been

Two computer researchers say the new iPhone quietly keeps track of everywhere you take it — even if you turn off the GPS function. The iPhone 4 is constantly recording its location relative to nearby cell phone towers and WiFi signals. In other words, it's all the information needed for a detailed map of everywhere the phone's owner has been.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, Host:

Two computer researchers are making waves with their announcement that Apple's new iPhone quietly keeps track of every place you take it, even if you turn off the GPS function.

NPR's Martin Kaste reports.

MARTIN KASTE: Alasdair Allan says the iPhone 4 is constantly recording its location relative to nearby cell phone towers and Wi-Fi signals. He found the data when he was looking at the files created when you sync your phone with your computer.

ALASDAIR ALLAN: I stumbled across a directory that's actually named Location D, and I thought well, that looks interesting - which was full of latitudes and longitudes and time stamps.

KASTE: In other words, all the information needed for a detailed map of everywhere the phone's owner has been. In fact, Allan's colleague, Pete Warden, has released a simple program that lets users create maps of all the data saved by their phones so far.

Allan and Warden say the iPhone tracking was already a known piece of inside knowledge among hacker-types, but they wanted to make sure everybody was aware of it. Warden says there's no evidence the location information is being sent to anybody else.

PETE WARDEN: So don't panic, but we do want to know more about what's happening with this data.

KASTE: Privacy experts say a person's location history could be seized for a lawsuit or a criminal investigation, or maybe swiped by a computer virus.

iPhone maker Apple has not responded to repeated requests for comment.

Martin Kaste, NPR News.

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