Link to Main Site

Click here to visit our main site

Friday, 22 April 2011

Shock revelation: Apple iPhone tracking your location!

So, the news-wires have been humming the last day or two with revelations about a tracking feature embedded in the Apple iPhone.  Reports suggest that the iPhone stores your location at regular intervals without using the in-built GPS receiver.

This data is stored in a file called consolidated.db and is sync'd to your PC or Mac using iTunes when you connect the iPhone.

Salacious stories abound of how Apple are collecting this data for their own purposes and how police officers can search the data if they stop you.

The blogosphere has been alight with the masses up in arms.

Well, I'm going to buck the trend and illuminate some critical facts that are overlooked by some of those media outlets.

Firstly, the storage of you location is required by certain apps, such as geo-location services, the camera, shopping etc.  The method used is a triangulation approximation using GSM radio towers that your phone can detect.  Note, this is an approximation and nowhere near as accurate as the GPS receiver.

Secondly, there is no great conspiracy or cover-up in the capture or storage of this data.  Rather like the mass hysteria regarding Google intercepting unencrypted data from wifi channels as their StreetView cars pass by, the capturing of this data is not being hovered up into a central Apple database to be used against you in some future point in time.  Yes, it is sync'd to your computer, but it is not transferred to Apple - it is against California State Law for them to do so.  Before people say "when did the law make any difference", consider the hundreds of millions of iPhones in use and think about it for one moment: would Apple really risk a law suit that could bankrupt them due to the scale of products sold if they were tracking users locations?

Thirdly, the storage of this data is in fact not new!  It has only been recently re-discovered, but was publicized in 2010 and discussed in several papers at the time.  The data file has been moved to a more readily accessible location, but that is only to allow apps to access the data more easily.

To put all this in context, some years ago, I happened to be first on the scene of an accident between a car full of young lads and a tractor on a rural road in Southern Scotland.  Grabbing my mobile (it was not a iPhone, in fact it was not even a smartphone - just a first generation GSM phone), I dialed 999. Being distracted for a moment by the occupants of the car, I could not think clearly if I was on the A70 or A71.  On calling the emergency services, I said, I'm on the A71, to which the operator said, "I think sir you are on the A70, is that right?"

The point being, the emergency services were geo-locating my position based on GSM radio signals and were able to confirm my location.  No big brother, no paranoia, just a straightforward use of technology for a useful purpose.  I'm sure the young driver of the car was thankful the ambulance arrived at the right location rather than 20 miles away on the A71!

Now, I'm no Apple "fanboi".  I use some of their products for business because they help me get my job done.  I do have concerns about some of their business practices, tying users into using iTunes and the App Store, but that is another story for another time.  In this case Apple are being hounded for being a successful company and there may well be an element on those who complain the loudest being just a tiny wee bit jealous of a successful product.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Facebook scams and all that glitters is not gold

A cautionary tale of how not to get scammed on Facebook.

If you use Facebook (it's quite likely that you do), how many times have you seen messages from friends that claim to know how many times their profiles have been viewed?  Quite a few probably.  As many as you get from friends who have recently subscribed to the newest purveyor of little blue pills, or those who use services to predict the future or other rather odd applications.

Needless to say, these are all scams, stealing your personal information while spamming your friends with their poison.

So, how do they work.  Simple really.  A so called viral link is generated by the scammer to entice the victim (for that's what they are - a victim) into clicking on a like button.  When that happens, the victim is taken to a genuine looking site that requests access to personal information - usually in a round about manner.  Before displaying the information that the victim was seeking in the first place, they are then taken to an online questionnaire to fill out.  Frequently this reveals even more information about the victim to the scammer.  Not only that, but the scammer most often actually gets paid for the completion of the questionnaire!

Finally the victim is shown a page that perhaps indicates he or she was "liked" so many times, or their page was visited by a particular demographic etc.  These are all fake and not worth your time.

Moreover, while the victim was entering all their personal preferences into the questionnaire, all their contacts and friends were receiving messages from the rogue app inviting them to fall victim too.

If you find yourself being spammed by such apps, simply block them in you profile.  If you have completed a questionnaire online for one of these scammers, be very careful to check your personal information and make sure it is not being used for criminal purposes.