A class action lawsuit was filed this week against Apple (AAPL) over the iPhone’s ability to track and store user’s location data. According to the lawsuit, filed by two men in Florida, Apple collects users’ location information covertly and the way they go about it is is a violation of law. According to the lawsuit documents filed, “users of Apple products have … no way to prevent Apple from collecting this information because even if users disable the iPhone and iPad GPS components, Apple’s tracking system remains fully functional.”
Apple’s stock tumbled yesterday as news of the lawsuit was made public.
The issue of iPhone location tracking made headlines last week when two researchers published a blog post that said iOS 4+ devices collect a users’ location in an unencrypted file known as “consolidated.db.” The consolidated.db stores user information including latitude-longitude coordinates and a time/date stamp.
The fact that Apple was collecting this user location data to serve up location-based services was no big surprise. But the researchers became concerned when they realized that this information is stored in an insecure manner, and transferred to a user’s PC when they sync their iOS device, whether they like it or not.
People are very concerned that the phone’s location tracking system abilities are a violation of privacy rights. Some say that the iPhone’s ability to track users’ location makes them vulnerable to stalking and other crimes. If someone is able to get a hold of your location data, then they will be able to figure out where you go on a daily basis and when. They could be able to rob your house because they know when you are regularly away at work, for example. It seems the collection started with iOS 4, so there’s roughly an entire year’s worth of user location data at this point.
“What makes this issue worse is that the file is unencrypted and unprotected, and it’s on any machine you’ve synched with your iOS device. It can also be easily accessed on the device itself if it falls into the wrong hands. Anybody with access to this file knows where you’ve been over the last year, since iOS 4 was released,” wrote Pete Warden, founder of the Data Science Toolkit, and Alasdair Allan, a senior research fellow at the University of Exeter.
Apple already faces similar inquiries from the federal government, after U.S. Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., fired off letters to Apple CEO Steve Jobs April 21, asking for clarification on news that the iPhone and 3G-enabled iPad running iOS 4 have been saving location data to a hidden database file.
This is just the latest lawsuit against Apple over privacy issues. According to PMag.com, iIn January, a California man filed suit accusing Apple of producing devices that allow ad networks to track a user’s app activity. A month later, another man filed a similar suit against Apple for transmitting user information to third parties without permission. And earlier this month, a Pennsylvania man filed suit against Apple for what he considered to be the “unlawful exploitation” of children (and their parents’ wallets) via Cupertino’s in-app purchasing policies.