Subscribe to our feed
  • About

    Russell Viers is a Transition Expert in the publishing world. Since 1997 he has helped newspapers and magazines adapt to changes in the industry. Read more...

    Other Profiles


    My Twitter Tweets



  • Apple is tracking ME?!? Should I be worried or flattered?

    April 22nd, 2011 by Russell Viers

    I read an article yesterday, which led me to read more articles yesterday, about the tracking device inside the iPhones and iPads. I think the most informative one is here on WebProNews.

    According to the articles, the new OS4 software creates a file which tracks where you’ve been and then syncs it to your computer as in unencrypted file that anyone can get to.

    Really? I gotta try this.

    There is a free app named “iPhone Tracker” which you can quickly download and install on your Mac. Upon launch, the app finds this file and creates a map of the globe and shows where you’ve been.

    I could see right away that it only tracks cell traffic, not WIFI, as none of my international stops in the last three months were showing.

    As you can see, all that’s showing is a bunch of travel in the Midwest United States…so I zoomed in.

    I found it interesting how it wasn’t showing locations where I know I have been and know I used the 3G function on my iPad.

    In the last three weeks I’ve spoken in Saratoga Springs, NY at the New York Press Association Convention and in Norfolk, VA for the Virginia Press Association Convention. Neither are showing as spots where I’ve been, although you can see my trip from Nashville to Bowling Green, KY with multiple dots along the way between them.

    If I zoom in on the Midwest, where I live a lot of the time, you’ll see a lot of traffic between Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Kansas City. But along the way are dots in cities I’ve never been and no dots in cities where I know I’ve spent a few days. Lamar, MO, for example, doesn’t have a dot anywhere near it, yet I was there for two days in the past three weeks.

    It’s obvious that the tracking device only picks the tower nearest, but I would think there would be other towers along the way to show a real path…towers closer to the route than what it does.

    Look at Joplin, MO, for example. I NEVER stop in Joplin, MO (we’ll save those stories for another time). Yet if you look at the map of Joplin, it would appear I’ve been there a lot…and all over town.

    When I go through Joplin I always stay on I-44 East to US-71N. You can see my only route in red. And yet look at all the dots which would imply I’ve been elsewhere…and notice they are very much on a grid pattern. But further north, in Carthage, nothing…and there’s nothing on the map until Kansas City.

    So what does this mean? I don’t know, I just had fun playing with it.

    But it does make you think a bit, I hope. What DOES this mean? Is Apple using it to pick new locations for stores based on iPhone and iPad usage? If so, you have to chalk it up as one brilliant tool for market research by a company. Can you imagine tracking devices in Nike Shoes to see where there is a huge clientele that doesn’t have a local store to serve them? What about…well…any product that has stores in major cities and is wanting to branch out. Tracking devices in GAP clothes, Oakley Sunglasses, etc? Brilliant. I don’t know that it’s legal, but it does sound like a marketer’s dream.

    Forget marketing for a second…what about just the idea of easily being tracked? Okay, there’s the obvious question “what if I bought my kids iPhones…could I use this to get a general idea of where they’ve been?” Yes…a general idea, based on my personal maps. “Could I track employees, spouses…uh…anyone?” Yes, if they have these devices and you have access to the computer they are syncing to (which is required by Apple for the devices to work) and have the rights to load the software.

    So with this thought, my kids could come home, sync their iPhones and go to sleep…then I could spy. Or check on my employees at lunch break.

    I’m a little uncomfortable with this.

    What about law enforcement and other entities that might want to “spy” or “check up” on us.

    I was chatting with a friend about this an she said “What if you were in a town discussing a secret business deal with the only company in that area and there was a crime committed somewhere in that town and because of this information you became a suspect? Now you’re on the front page of the paper as a suspect, and even though you’re innocent, your business deal becomes public.”

    If you want fodder for some deep discussion tonight over dinner with friends, bring this up. And if you have an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch with 3G download the app and check it out for yourself.

    At the very least, I don’t think this can be ignored. Thanks to Senator Al Franken for sending the letter to Apple requesting more information and let’s hope we get some real answers to this. Also thanks to Senator Al Franken for Stuart Smalley.

    Let’s start this discussion right here. What does your map show and what do you think about all this? Is it a real concern or just hype that will pass tomorrow?

    One Response to “Apple is tracking ME?!? Should I be worried or flattered?”

    1. jul Says:

      Considering who you’re referring to: i’d say both

    Leave a Reply