Researchers Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden announced today that they have found a hidden file located on iOS 4 devices that tracks every iPhone or iPad's location, paired with a time-stamp. The hidden file has been included in iOS since version 4 and tracks users' locations down to the latitude and longitude with a time-stamp of each location.
The information, located in a file called "consolidated.db," is then gathered by Apple and is passed along device backups and device migrations. What makes this situation even worse is that the file is unencrypted and unprotected, and is also accessible via any computer that you've synced your device with over the past year. If someone gets their hands on this file, they will potentially have access to every place that you've been over the past year.
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.
Many of you may be asking why this file is on your device in the first place. Its main function is for law enforcement. There must be a court order against your carrier to access the file, but now it's open to pretty much anyone. This file will also continue to gather information, even if you turn off Location Services in the Settings app.
The researchers have also released a small application that allows you to see what tracking information has been gathered about you over the past year, in a graphical format. The researchers also reminded users that the best way to protect yourself is to encrypt your iOS device backups in iTunes.