Editor’s note: In the days before Edward Snowden Apple’s iPhones were notorious for privacy problems and lots of people went to jail because their phones snitched on them. IPhones were generally regarded as the worst offenders, with Android it depended on what malicious software the carrier added and whether or not the user used Google services with it. After the Snowden revelations broke, Apple might have decided to reverse course fearing lost sales, thus the recent encrypted iPhones the FBI is whining and moaning about.
Back in 2011 Cnet broke an extraordinarily ugly report that Apple iPhone/iPad devices were tracking user movements and storing a log file of all user movements unencrypted on the device.
Even worse, this log file gets transferred to computers syncing to the device. If you computer containing this file is taken in a raid or if you are ever arrested with an iPhone, the cops could get a record of ALL your movements while carrying it. The report is out on cnet, so presumably the “computer crime” cops also know about it. Don’t be surprised if someone taking money from the cops was the source of this code, for that matter.
If you own an iPhone from that era and bring it to protests, stop doing so now if it is running iOS version 4 unless you are capable of rooting the phone, finding the log file, and securely deleting it. Otherwise, any two iPhones captured together at a protest could tell police a lot of things that could put people in serious jeopardy! Ask me in person about details of how this sort of information could be exploited-I am not telling them how to use it on an open forum as they may be too stupid to figure it out for themselves.
If you have carried such a device in the past to protests from which criminal charges could ever ensue, you need to take it to a hacker who knows how to find and securely delete this file-or totally destroy the hard drive and replace it, never bringing the phone to a protest again.
With most cell phones you can remove the battery when you just can’t afford to be tracked, but Iphones have batteries that cannot be removed without an X-acto knife. This means you can’t carry it but only put the battery in when in use. I do NOT know if iPhones can be turned on remotely under a wiretap order, but I do know that may other phones can be. Assume this of all phones until proven otherwise, and do not carry any phone whose battery cannot be removed.
Even the feds are furious with Apple, and Congressman Ed Markey is demanding answers from Apple’s CEO about this user tracking, which of course Apple never told users would happen.
I would guess this sort of tracking file was intended for the use of online advertisers. That, of course, is assuming Apple did not get screwed by a programmer taking money under the table from the Secret Service, the FBI, or the NSA. Needless to say, this is why I do not own a smartphone and do not permit non-open source operating systems in my computers-and use only removable camera cards in cameras-which are computers with non-open source operating systems.
Cell phone companies cannot be trusted, so never combine your camera, your computer, or anything else with yout cell phone. My advice is a cheap no-frills voice phone on a prepaid plan paid for with cash only, batteries out when security counts. Keep all cameras, recording devices, web surfing computers, etc separate.
It is possible to install Linux on some tablet computers, then use them with external, USB-connected cell phone data plan adapters for functionality similar to an iPad with a hell of a lot more security-and with the ability to encrypt the storage. This way, the cell phone tower cannot see anything your secure operating system does not explicitly send them except your location when you are actually using the adapter. That can be found simply by triangulating the signal, but is not as accurate as a GPS phone would be and cannot tell, say, your position in a dense crowd or on a city block.