There was one big open question after researchers revealed that the iPhone keeps an unencrypted log of location data: Is there a way to turn it off? As we reported last week, back in 2009, Apple told Congress in a letter that turning off location services would keep the iPhone from collecting data.
A preliminary test done by NPR's Senior Director of Technology Zach Brand, found that his iPhone seemed to stop collecting data after he turned off location services. But a new test conducted by the Wall Street Journal found that the iPhone continued to collect data even after their testers had turned off location services:
The Journal disabled location services (which are on by default) and immediately recorded the data that had initially been gathered by the phone. The Journal then carried the phone to new locations and observed the data. Over the span of several hours as the phone was moved, it continued to collect location data from new places.
These data included coordinates and time stamps; however, the coordinates were not from the exact locations that the phone traveled, and some of them were several miles away. The phone also didn't indicate how much time was spent in a given location. Other technology watchers on blogs and message boards online have recorded similar findings.
Wired reports that independent users have experienced the same thing. While Apple hasn't commented on the most recent reports, the results of theses tests seem in direct contradiction to what Apple said in its letter to Congress: "If customers toggle the switch to 'Off,' they may not use location-based services, and no location-based information will be collected."
As the Wall Street Journal puts it, the new revelations will likely spur more questions about how well Apple's customers are informed about what data their devices are collecting. Last week, we also reported that Google's Android phones were collecting similar data, but in the least, Google clearly warns its users about what it is collecting.
Alexis Madrigal over at The Atlantic has piece today that's made to make you think. Madrigal puts his iPhone through a forensics program called Lantern. He found so much information about himself (14,000 text messages, 1,350 words in his personal dictionary, 1,450 Facebook contacts, tens of thousands of location pings, every website he'd visited) that he was able to piece together an hour-by-hour timeline of what he did April 13.
Cell phones keep so much information about you, he found, that one forensics specialist said, "mobile device forensics is the future. With the wealth of data even a casual user has stored in his or her cellphone, smartphone, or PDA, it is quickly becoming THE one piece of evidence that is interrogated immediately."