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Summary:

Any company getting attention over privacy issues these days can quickly expect the lawsuits to follow. Just two days after the iPhone’s tra…

Lawyer talking to jury
photo: Corbis / Tim Pannell

Any company getting attention over privacy issues these days can quickly expect the lawsuits to follow. Just two days after the iPhone’s tracking file got the attention of the national press, a class action lawsuit was filed in federal court. It will likely not be the last.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court by a Florida solo practitioner, Aaron Mayer, who is likely happy to be fielding more press calls on this lawsuit than on any other he’s filed. The representative clients are one iPhone owner and one iPad owner who say the tracking that those devices perform violates a federal law, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, as well as various state consumer protection laws.

With digital privacy now squarely in the national spotlight, any company that has negative privacy news can quickly expect to find itself attacked by a the growing “internet privacy” plaintiffs’ bar. Lawsuits like this complaint, Ajjampur v. Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) (PDF available via Wired), aren’t particularly interesting to read because they don’t do much more than use news headlines and then recite alleged legal violations.

In fact, privacy lawsuits are proliferating so much that one has to wonder if they’re actually disruptive to real policy discussion of the issues. Mobile phone tracking is a serious issue that industry, privacy advocates, law enforcement, and elected representatives need to engage in public debate over. I’m not sure having a growing group of privacy lawyers at the table–whose primary interest is often pecuniary–is moving the discussion forward.

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  1. Someone should conduct a survey to determine the extent of angst over privacy claims. Apple and those who supply the Android OS offer products that have the ability to provide applications based on mapping, such as directions to or from a destination or a list of restaurants having searchable menus and locations. It is necessary for these programs to work that a temporary file be used which contains your current location and the location of your destination. The bruhaha now ongoing occurs because this file is maintained in your mobile device and in a backup file on the computer that you use to synchronize your information. The backup file can be encrypted at your option. No access from a remote computer is possible, unless the remote knows your passcode(s). I for one appreciate that location services exist; they make my mobile device and my computer better tools. I believe privacy alarms are overblown. Put my vote in DO NOT CARE column. To me this issue is a non-starter. I think it is being pursued by those who hope to capture some of that more than $80B in cash equivalents now held by Apple and Google. If our laws required losers of this kind of litigation to pay both parties’ legal fees, I believe we would see less of this kind of activity. Note to Google and Apple: fight it. The facts support you. Don’t let the moochers munch on your property.

  2. Apple’s issue here isn’t that there’s a temporary working file that the OS allows apps that you’ve approved to use.

    The data appears to be anything but temporary. It has at least a year’s worth of tracking data on my own phone. Even if Apple isn’t sending this data to themselves (and I suspect they aren’t) it’s not cool that there’s a file someone could look at (if they obtained my phone) to see everywhere I’ve been for a few years. Not cool at all. The comparable file on Android phones (yes there is one) doesn’t appear to store the location data for nearly as long and thus is less of a privacy concern.

    Location services can be provided by these phones just fine without a record of your travels being stored on your phone that goes so far back.

    1. While I agree in principle, in reality, if someone has your phone or your computer that syncs to your phone, them (maybe) being able to find out where you’ve been is the least of your worries. And with the recent Sony PSN episode (and really, many other examples) where hackers get into a network and obtain personal financial data (a far worse issue), Google storing your data instead of your phone doesn’t strike me as all that much more secure.

      But your last sentence is really the question to be asked. Are location services _really_ helped by this file and how? If the benefit is only marginal at best, why bother?

      Joe

  3. trackerbuster Monday, May 2, 2011

    TrackerBuster!!!!

    This script is designed to “patch” the iPhone “bug” that makes it store user movement data.

    This will not harm your device in any form, it will just configure consolidated.db to auto purge via standard sql calls.

    No executable code or external program needed running on the iPhone.

    This patch IS USABLE on NOT JAILBROKEN devices too

    1st get the database:

    In JAILBROKEN devices just SCP/FTP to /var/root/Library/Caches/locationd and copy consolidated.db to your computer

    In NOT JAILBROKEN devices a method is proposed here using itunes backups to access the file:
    http://howto.wired.com/wiki/Find_Stored_iPhone_Location_Data_on_your_Computer

    Apply the patch to the database. The easy way is opening the file with a SQL browser, and import the TrackerBuster.sql

    Any SQL browser will do the job, but sometimes freeware is not easy to find in windows so I used and tested with the SQLite Database Browser over a PuppyLinux 5.2.5 liveCD

    In JAILBROKEN devices just SCP/FTP and copy the modified consolidated.db to to /var/root/Library/Caches/locationd

    In NOT JAILBROKEN devices restore from your last backup in iTunes once database is patched

    READY, your iPhone is not tracking your data anymore, with no programs running on the background.

    If you need to restore the tracking ability of the device just remove the file using the same methods

    Extended info in the script itself, just open it with any text or code editor

    TrackerBuster:

    http://www.megaupload.com/?d=XGCP8B4G

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