Last quarter, Apple's profits rose by 95 per cent and revenues grew by 83 per cent on the same period a year ago. The latest figures show profits of US$6 billion on revenues of $24.7 billion.The iPhone remains immensely popular, with sales of 18.6 million units, more than double that achieved 12 months ago, whilst the company cannot make enough iPads to keep up with demand.
Great stuff by any standards, but the results are overshadowed by the remarkable revelation that the iPhone automatically (and secretly) records and stores exactly where a user is and then time-stamps the data. In other words, your iPhone is watching you, tracking you and keeping detailed records of where you are and when you are there. What's more, if/when users synchronise the iPhone to a Mac, the data is copied over to the computer and secretly archived there as well.
However, whilst the data is hidden away from the average user, it is stored in unencrypted form so that it could be read anyone (or any agency) who actually get their mitts on the device.
Yup, your friendly, intuitive iPhone is spying on you, recording the co-ordinates of your latitude and longitude and and time-stamping them. It is not known when Apple started to spy on its customers in this way, but researchers say it might have begun with the iOS4 update that users willingly uploaded from June 2010 onwards.
This news came out at the "Where 2.0" conference that was held in San Francisco this week. Two data scientists, Pete Warden and Alasdair Allan announced that during the course of their researches into the innermost workings of the iPhone they came across the secret surveillance files. The two men say that the spyware seems to be confined only to Apple products and that they have found no evidence of anything similar being hidden away in other mobile device operating systems such as Android.
Apple's response to the discovery has been to say that users agree to use of the tracking facility when they click on the "I accept the terms and conditions" button that has to be pushed in order for an iPhone to work at all.
That's as maybe but have you ever tried to read the T&C's? They run to over 15,000 words - the length of a PhD thesis - and you need a PhD to understand the verbiage even if you do decide to devote several hours to reading it. That's because it is written from a technical viewpoint and nowhere is the reality made explicit (in ordinary layman's language) exactly what signing-up to the T&C's actually means.
The text describes the technology, not its potential effects on the lives of individuals.
And even if a customer did pore over all the wordy details (and how many ever do? One in a million? One in 10 million?) and didn't like what he or she read, what could that person do about it? It's a matter of don't sign up, don't get service. Caveat emptor. Talk about having your customers over a barrel.
Messrs. Warden and Allen point out that there is no evidence that Apple or any other body has accessed the stored information but that still begs the question as to why the tracking facility is there in the first place. Perhaps Apple is readying some gob-smacking new apps that need location information to work their magic. But if that's the case, isn't it time we were told? And, let's face it, its much more likely to be something to do with location-based advertising and yet another money-making opportunity for Apple.
The researchers say that whilst they were rootling around in the entrails of the iPhone, they at first "weren't sure how much data was there, but after we dug further and visualised the extracted data, it became clear that there was a scary amount of detail on our movements. It also became obvious that at least some other people knew about it, but it wasn't being publicised.”
Simon Davies, a director of Privacy International, commented, "This is a worrying discovery. Location is one of the most sensitive elements in anyone's life – just think where people go in the evening. The existence of that data creates a real threat to privacy. The absence of notice to users or any control option can only stem from an ignorance about privacy at the design stage."
Yes, perhaps. One thing is for sure, the location data captured and hidden on iPhones is, at the very least, a gift to the likes of divorce lawyers and who knows how long it will be before the police and other law enforcement agencies start to demand access to the data?
Apple is being uncharacteristically quiet about the revelation but the least it can do is explain, apologise and tell users how to turn off the tracking. By the way, the same facility is apparently embedded in iPads.
Martyn Warwick, TelecomTV. You can view the original article here.