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iPhone Location Tracking Leads to Privacy Lawsuit

Apple has been hit with a lawsuit in Florida alleging the company is violating iPhone user’s privacy and committing computer fraud. The case came in response to news that the iPhone maintains a time stamped location log, and that data is also stored on user’s computers.

The lawsuit was filed in Federal court in Tampa Florida on April 25 by two customers who claimed Apple was tracking iPhone owner’s movements without consent, according to Bloomberg.

The case was filed after word that the iPhone and iPad with 3G support maintains an unencrypted log file showing where users are based on cell tower triangulation. That file is transferred to user’s computers during the sync process with iTunes and is maintained as part of the device’s backup file collection.

Location logging has been active in the iPhone and 3G iPad since the release of iOS 4 last June, which means some users have nearly a year’s worth of data stored away. Apple is denying that they are actively tracking user locations.

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Award-winning author and identity theft keynote speaker John Sileo trains executives and employees to respect and protect the data that makes their company profitable. His clients included the Department of Defense, Homeland Security, FDIC, Pfizer, Blue Cross and organizations of all sizes. Contact him directly on 800.258.8076 or watch him deliver an Identity Theft Speech.

iPhone and Droid Want to Be Your Big Brother

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Remember the iconic 1984 Super Bowl ad with Apple shattering Big Brother? How times have changed! Now they are Big Brother.

According to recent Wall Street Journal findings, Apple Inc.’s iPhones and Google Inc.’s Android smartphones regularly transmit your locations back to Apple and Google, respectively. This new information only intensifies the privacy concerns that many people already have regarding smartphones. Essentially, they know where you are anytime your phone is on, and can sell that to advertisers in your area (or will be selling it soon enough).

The actual answer here is for the public to put enough pressure on Apple and Google that they stop the practice of tracking our location-based data and no longer collect, store or transmit it in any way without our consent.

You may ask, “don’t all cell phone carriers know where you are due to cell tower usage?” Yes, but Google and Apple are not cell phone carriers, they are software and hardware designers and should have no real reason (other than information control) to be tracking your every move without your knowledge. Google and Apple are not AT&T or Verizon, therefore they should not be recording, synching and transmitting your location like it appears they are.

Both companies are trying to build huge databases that allow them to pinpoint your exact location. So how are they doing it? By recording the cell phone towers and WiFi hotspots that you pass and that your phone utilizes. This data will ultimately be used to help them market location based services to their audience, which is a market that is expected to rise $6 billion in the next 3 years.

The Wall Street Journal found through research by security analyst Samy Kamkar, the HTC Android phone collected its location every few seconds and transmitted the data to Google at least several times an hour. It transmitted the name, location and signal strength of any nearby WiFi networks, as well as a unique phone identifier. This was not as personal of information like what the Street-View cars collected that Google had to shut down some time ago.

So what do we do now? According to the Wall Street Journal, neither Apple or Google commented when contacted about these findings, so it is hard to know the extent of how they are using the data collected. Right now, there really isn’t much you can do to stop GPS tracing of your location without your consent. Of course you could power down your phone, but we are all way too additcted to these handy little digital Swiss Army Knives to do that. You can turn of GPS services, but again, that makes it impossible to use maps and other location-based apps.

The actual answer here is for the public to put enough pressure on Apple and Google that they stop the practice of tracking our location-based data and no longer collect, store or transmit it in any way without our consent.

While this may be the future of privacy, it is better that we are aware of what may come rather than remain in the dark about the possibilities of technology.

John Sileo is the President of The Sileo Group and the award winning author of four books, including his latest workbook, The Smartphone Survival Guide. He speaks around the world on identity theft, online reputation and influence. His clients include the Department of Defense, Pfizer and Homeland Security. Learn more at www.ThinkLikeASpy.com.

Geotag, You're It! Disabling GPS Coordinates

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Geotagging allows others to track your location even though you don’t know it.

With the increased use of Internet-enabled mobile devices such as the Blackberry, Droid and iPhone, geotagging has seen a huge increase in popularity. When social media users take a picture or video and upload it to their page, they are probably transmitting far more data than they think. With the ability to quickly add GPS information to media, smartphones make geotagging a simple task.

So What is Geotagging?

Simply, geotagging is where location or geographical information, such as your GPS coordinates, are added and embedded to different types of media (.jpg, .mov files, etc.). Invisible to the naked eye and the casual observer, geotags are part of the meta-data, or underlying data about the data, that accompanies each file. Examples of meta-data include when the file was created or modified, by whom, using what device and software. This data is often loaded on to your computer along with the original file.  Browser plug-ins and certain software programs can reveal the location information to anyone who wants to see it.

Twittervision makes great use of geotagging. Twittervision is a web mashup combining Twitter with Google Maps to create a real time display of tweets across a map (see photo above).  It also has a 3D mode that displays a globe of the Earth which spins to pinpoint arriving messages from Twitter.

So, who would want to know where you are?

While most of the uses are not fully apparent yet, your real-time location can reveal your home address, work address, places you visit often and at what time of day. It can reveal if you go to the doctor, a lawyer, a court date, or any other type of private meeting. Geotags make it very easy for friends, relatives, bosses, spouses, parents, enemies, law enforcement, stalkers, and thieves to know exactly where you are.

Telling everyone on your Facebook status that you are out for the evening can invite burglars; geotagging can do the same without you updating your status in any way.  By taking a picture at the Barry Manilow concert and uploading it to your twitter account, you are broadcasting the fact that you are probably over 40, away from home and, thanks to the geotag, exactly how far away you are.

If you’ve never seen Minority Report with Tom Cruise (where ads are served up to you on giant screens based on biometrics and your current location as you walk through the city ), it’s worth your time. Of course the movie exaggerates reality, that is one of the hallmarks of science fiction. But it does so in order to make you think about the possibilities and future realities. And that is exactly what corporations are doing. Using geotags that you upload into social networks (photos, videos, check-ins), they can see that you enjoy Starbucks and live in a certain neighborhood, so they may purchase a billboard in the area or more likely, target an ad to you on your Facebook wall. Although this can seem harmless, it will eventually raise larger concerns on consumer privacy.

In this fast paced electronic world, more and more people are using smartphones and therefore we can expect an increased use of geotags in the future. The problem with geotagging is that since it is not visible to the naked eye, most people don’t even realize they are sharing their location data. So what if you don’t want to transmit your location data?

Keeping location data private can be difficult, but here are some places to start:

  • Understand that anytime you take a picture, video or post an update from a networked device (somehow connected to the internet), your location is probably being appended to the file, even though it is hidden from you. As with all things technological, there are advantages and disadvantages to all features. Location based services also allow you to use handy tools like maps; give you Big Brother-like power in tracking your kids’ whereabouts, and allow thieves to burgle you when no one is home using tools like Foursquare and Facebook Places.
  • Disable geotagging application by application on your iPhone 4. In your phone, go to Settings, General, Location Services. Here you can set which applications can access your GPS coordinates, or disable the feature entirely (which could cause you problems using maps, restaurant finders, etc.)
  • Disable geotagging for photos on your BlackBerry. Go into picture-taking mode (HomeScreen, click the Camera icon), press the Menu button and choose “Options”. Set the “Geotagging” setting to “Disabled”. Finally, save the updated settings.
  • Disable geotagging for photos on your Droid. Start the Camera app (this is the menu on the left side of the camera application; it slides out from left to right). Select “Store Location” and make sure it is set to “Off”.
  • Although Facebook does remove geotags from uploaded photos, other social networking sites do not. Look into your privacy settings and turn off location sharing. As mentioned above, you can generally turn this feature off in your camera or phone as well.
  • Take particular care if you are uploading photos to a website where strangers will see them — such as Craigslist or Ebay.
  • Consider installing a plug-in on your browser to reveal location data – such as Exif Viewer for Firefox or Opanda IExif for Internet Explorer, so you can see geotagged data for yourself.
  • Take the time to stay informed about geotagging and other types of new technologies. By knowing what is out there, you can ensure the next photo or piece of media you upload won’t share your location with the World Wide Web.

John Sileo speaks professionally about social media exposure, identity theft and cyber crime for the Department of Defense, Fortune 1000 companies and any organization that wants to protect the profitability of their private information. Contact him directly on 800.258.8076 or visit his speaker’s website at www.ThinkLikeASpy.com.