To make it less useful for snoops, the spatial and temporal accuracy of the data has been artificially reduced. You can only animate week-by-week even though the data is timed to the second, and if you zoom in you’ll see the points are constrained to a grid, so your exact location is not revealed. The underlying database has no such constraints, unfortunately.
As far as we can tell, the location is determined by triangulating against the nearest cell-phone towers. This isn’t as accurate as GPS, but presumably takes less power. In some cases it can get very confused and temporarily think you’re several miles from your actual location, but these tend to be intermittent glitches.
There’s no evidence that it’s being transmitted beyond your device and any machines you sync it with.
Security researchers have discovered that Apple's iPhone keeps track of where you go – and saves every detail of it to a secret file on the device
const float precision = 100;
const float weekInSeconds = (7*24*60*60);
The timestamps showing my phone in Vegas overlap with timestamps showing my wife and I on a road trip (with my old 3GS) in Michigan.
(well, to be more precise, it's still degraded to a day long bucket, but I believe I have the latitude and longitude degrader removed.)
and two days that I spent in Regina SK where I am fairly certain I didn't use my cell phone at all [had it in airplane mode with all the data turned off in fact because who wants to pay Rogers all that money]. I'm still trying to figure out why it was even pinging the towers at all.
For example, one finding we've had is that we can combine lots of people's location trails and predict likely privacy preferences (PDF). The idea is to differentiate between "private" and "public" places, and we found a pretty good correlation to location sharing preferences.
My research group's actually been doing a lot of studies on location trails and location-based services. While I fully acknowledge the creepiness factor, having a lot of data like this would be really useful in understanding human behavior and real-world social networks at scale.
For everyone younger than that, they've grown up in a culture that is not only ok with that exchange, but enthusiastic about it. And not because they don't value their privacy, but because (I suspect):
Google previously has said that the Wi-Fi data it collects is anonymous and that it deletes the start and end points of every trip that it uses in its traffic maps. However, the data, provided to the Journal exclusively by Mr. Kamkar, contained a unique identifier tied to an individual's phone.
Mr. Kamkar, 25 years old, has a controversial past. In 2005, when he was 19, he created a computer worm that caused MySpace to crash. He pled guilty to a felony charge of computer hacking in Los Angeles Superior Court, and agreed to not use a computer for three years. Since 2008, he has been doing independent computer security research and consulting. Last year, he developed the "evercookie"—a type of tracking file that is difficult to be removed from computers—as a way to highlight the privacy vulnerabilities in Web-browsing software.
The Journal hired an independent consultant, Ashkan Soltani, to review Mr. Kamkar's findings regarding the Android device and its use of location data. Mr. Soltani confirmed Mr. Kamkar's conclusions.
Apple Inc.'s iPhones and Google Inc.'s Android smartphones regularly transmit their locations back to Apple and Google, respectively, according to data and documents analyzed by The Wall Street Journal—intensifying concerns over privacy and the widening trade in personal data.
In the case of Google, according to new research by security analyst Samy Kamkar, an HTC Android phone collected its location every few seconds and transmitted the data to Google at least several times an hour. It also transmitted the name, location and signal strength of any nearby Wi-Fi networks, as well as a unique phone identifier.
Google seems to be taking a different approach, to judge from the data captured by Mr. Kamkar. Its location data appears to be transmitted regardless of whether an app is running, and is tied to the phone's unique identifier.
5. Can Apple locate me based on my geo-tagged Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data?
No. This data is sent to Apple in an anonymous and encrypted form. Apple cannot identify the source of this data.
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