Apple devices found to store data on owners’ movements

An Exeter University researcher has revealed how he discovered that Apple iPhones and iPads are tracking their owners’ every movement and storing the information in a file on the device.

Dr Alasdair Allan, a senior research fellow in the astrophysics department, made the discovery while looking at programs on the iPhone with security expert Pete Warden.

He found a file that contains co-ordinates coupled with time stamps that show where the phone has been. This information goes back almost one year — which appears to start from the point that it was switched to the latest operating system for the device, iOS 4.

The information in the file is automatically transferred to an owner’s computer when the two are synchronised, although there is no obvious reason for the data to be collected.

Data from the files can be visualised to show where and when the device has been over a long period of time.

Some privacy campaigners have expressed concern about the discovery, but Allan said there was no need to panic.

He added: ’There’s no immediate harm that would seem to come from the availability of this data, nor is there evidence to suggest that this data is leaving your custody. But why it is stored and how Apple intends to use it — or not — are important questions that need to be explored.’

Apple has said that the data collection is included in its terms and conditions.