iPhone Tracking Data – How Dangerous?

There has been a lot of to-and-fro -(particularly in the tech industry) – over the last week or so in regards to whether or not Apple’s tracking of iPhone locations is a good or a bad thing.

Many commentators have landed on the “it is bad” side of the argument. Many have landed on the “it is not bad” side. Some have landed somewhere in between, and I have to admit after looking that the location data my iPhone has been collecting, I’m one of the people in the middle ground.

I don’t think it is “bad”, and from what I’ve seen in relation to my iPhone, the data is certainly ambiguous and open to interpretation. Below is a heat map of all locations retreived from my phone about an hour ago:

Certainly, a reasonably accurate picture of pretty much everywhere I’ve been over recent months. But how “accurate” is “reasonably accurate?”.

About a week and a half ago, I travelled the Hume Freeway to Albury-Wodonga for work purposes. Low and behold, here is the heat map for the day of travel in respect to that trip:

Here’s why I’m not too worried about it.

Firstly, the date of travel was April 14th, yet this data is listed as April 13th. This might be accountable to the data potentially being stored in GMT/UTC time, but straight away some doubt starts to hover over the data.

Secondly, while the data seems pretty convinced – (correctly) – that I was in the Albury-Wodonga area – (in the top right of the map) – it also seems pretty convinced that I was in Bendigo, surrounded by the clump on the upper left of the map.

It has been many years – (possibly even 20 or more) – since I have been to Bendigo, and certainly not since I’ve owned an iPhone – let alone one with version 4.x.x of iOS – (the version purported to be the only one doing this tracking) – installed.

Thirdly, my journey started and ended that day in Geelong – (lower area of the map, left of centre) – yet there is no data for Geelong whatsoever. Even if the data was stored in GMT/UTC, at least one end of the journey should have appeared on the map.

But no.

So the way I look at it is, if this data was brought up before a court of law for any purpose – was I in Geelong? Was I in Bendigo? Was I in Albury-Wodonga?

The answers should be “yes”, “no”, and “yes”, but the data on my phone suggests “no”, “yes”, and “yes”.

Apple does need to explain the existence of the data, but I think that’s enough doubt about the data for me. I’ll be watching next time I do a long trip.