Report: iPhones Track Movement Even With Location Services Disabled

The ongoing controversy over a hidden feature in Apple iPhones that tracks and stores the whereabouts of the phone became a bit murkier, after an analysis by the Wall Street Journal found that Apple may not be abiding by its own user privacy agreement by continuing to  track its customers’ whereabouts even after location services on its iPhones have been.

iPhone trackingThe ongoing controversy over a hidden feature in Apple iPhones that tracks and stores the whereabouts of the phone became a bit murkier, after an analysis by the Wall Street Journal found that Apple may not be abiding by its own user privacy agreement by continuing to  track its customers’ whereabouts even after location services on its iPhones have been.

An analysis by the Wall Street Journal found that an iPhone 4 continues to track and store the location of the phone even when that phone’s location services have been disabled, according to a report Monday. Reporters restored an iPhone 4 to factory settings and moved it to new locations while observing data and discovered it still retained location data such as coordinates and time stamps, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The finding is the latest in the ongoing saga regarding privacy on iPhones reinvigorated by last week’s news that  iPhones running version 4 of the company’s iOS operating system secretly track the location of phones at all times, transmitting some of that data back to Apple. The feature was unearthed by researchers Pete Warden and Alasdair Allan and presented at the Where 2.0 Conference in Santa Clara, Calif., last Wednesday.

The controversy surrounding the phone’s feature grew to such a fever pitch it even sparked a congressman, Ed Markey (D-Mass), to write a letter to Apple’s CEO, Steve Jobs, about the feature.

In previous statements about location tracking, Apple has pointed to its user agreement, saying that – in accepting that agreement – users consent to sharing data on their location data when they approve the user agreement, which spells out the kinds of data that will be shared and how it will be used. However, the Wall Street Journal analysis of the iPhone’s behavior tends to undermine that assertion. Users who disabled location services on their phone still have their movements tracked, as their phone records the location of each cellular tower and wifi hotspot it associates with. That data does not appear to be shared with Apple when location tracking is disabled, but news reports have already noted that it is available to law enforcement officials or others who know where to look for it.  

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