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London Calling. Don't Answer

I got home from mass and did a cursory check my email.  There's a message about the Apple "tracking users" thing and how almost every other smartphone, including Android, does it.  And another.  And another.  Seven total.

I clicked on the links, thinking it would just be the usual stuff.  Cell phone companies do track you by towers.  Police can come up with a rough guide of your locations by which ones your device accesses.  But just because that's what I think it will be doesn't mean that's what it is.  So I start reading.

Guess who's outraged.

Guess who doesn't want an Android anymore.

Guess who is suddenly grateful that he only turns his cell phone on when he's expecting a call and leaves it powered off otherwise.  (Note:  that last one doesn't work on all phones.  If your phone has GPS, many of them are still collecting data, and will transmit the next time it connects.  And information based on what wifi connections you shake hands with are constantly being stored.)

The articles sent to me are 100% correct.  Not only does Apple collect information, but so does Google.  We geeks know of Samy Kamkar, a hacker who's an expert in security and has a very...interesting past.  He has determined that Android phones collects location data every twelve seconds and transmits it a few times an hour.  Once again, the beauty of Open Source -- you can see what your software is doing.  This also explains why Google has worked to deny people their GPL'ed rights and stopped them from making their own Android distros -- that cute little feature would go bye-bye in a heartbeat.

Interestingly enough, M$ claims that their Mobile 7 devices does not retain location history, and the "Find my phone" feature only records its most recent location.  Admittedly, this is M$, so I don't actually believe that, but the fact is, M$ is using this to look pretty damn good next to the "FOSS" Android platform and the iDevices.

Want to know what's being collected?  For the iPhone, there are several programs (including an open sourced one) out there that will take the data dump and spit out not only what it is, but even draw a map for you.  Android?  Here's a nice little program that does the same thing.  And you can bet Blackberry's got one, too, it's just harder to find because Blackberry isn't as trendy as iOS4 or Android.

(The graphic pictured here is the little indicator that appears when someone or some program is utilizing the location tracking on your iDevice.  And, no, there's no way to disable location tracking.)

The obvious question is, other than us privacy advocates, who cares?  (My dad, when I was talking on the phone with him, said he doesn't care, he has nothing to hide.  I started asking him questions about his sex life.  When he wanted to know why, I said, you have nothing to hide, right?  He hung up on me.)  For starters, as this is considered "market research" data, right to privacy doesn't apply here.  It's in Apple's EULA under Location Based Services -- "Apple and our partners and licensees may collect, use, and share precise location data, including the real-time geographic location of your Apple computer or device. This location data is collected anonymously in a form that does not personally identify you and is used by Apple and our partners and licensees to provide and improve location-based products and services. For example, we may share geographic location with application providers when you opt in to their location services."  Homeland Security, without cause or warrant, will copy your data off any portable device if you try to cross the border (the 9th Circuit Court Of Appeals affirmed this last July when a person found their laptop had been searched, so it's not just phones.  Go on a trip abroad, you might want to make sure there's no PR0N on your machine).  Snoopy people can now find out what you've been up to, not just law enforcement, since the data is not encrypted by default.  It was recently discovered that Michigan police are using a program called CelleBrite UFED to data mine people's phones during traffic stops (they deny this).  It works on over 3000 different models, defeats password protections, and can pull every photo and video off an iPhone in a minute and a half.

Now I see why Linus dropping the Android kernel from the LKML and is very unhappy about what they are doing with his baby.  God only knows what they need all this information for.  It's not like Google has ENOUGH information on us and our habits.

Predictably, there is outrage, with congressman Ed Market (D-Mass.) demanding Steve Jobs answer questions (the location tracking was also in iPhone3 and was a lot easier to find, but for some reason, no one really seized on that).  I don't think it's going to go anywhere.  We're talking congressmen here.  J. Edgar Hoover had enough dirt to keep his position secure.  Given how everything is tracked, I wouldn't be surprised if the tech companies have some on key members of Congress, too.  And please note this congressman is not demanding Google state what it's doing, only Apple.  If you are serious about protecting our rights, question EVERYBODY!

Austin James on the TV show Probe once said, "It's information.  Information always means something."  I do not like being treated like a cog in the machine.

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