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Friday, April 22, 2011

Stop Being So Paranoid About You Phone Collecting Location Data


I know I put my paranoia hat on when the news started reporting about Apple collecting your location data for ‘unknown’ reasons, but now it’s time to put my common sense hat on and tell you all to relax a little bit.

I was entirely joking about the whole paranoia of how iOS’ data collection can help law enforcement track you using computer forensics. Not joking in the sense that it can’t happen but rather because I thought it was common knowledge location data was being collected, stored on devices and used in computer forensics since the days of the first smart phone. How else would they know where to route an incoming call? They have to know where your phone is or at least have a general idea to connect you to anything, that’s just the way technology works. Even thought this data has been hidden behind data center firewalls, there’s always that cache that has to sit in your memory. At least until the phone isn’t receiving power, and I don’t mean turned off.  I’ll explain later.

A good investigator will find you regardless of whether or not you use a cell phone. There are so many other, easier ways to find out where someone has been, for example ask their friends, or their parents, or just follow them on Facebook or twitter. That’s just the tip of the iceberg I’ve seen what talented investigators are capable of and trust me, they don’t need to track you by your phone. It sure makes life easy though.

All smartphones not just Apple’s collect location data for the aforementioned sending and receiving information as well as for applications. The data they store is not very specific despite what people may say, GPS location data can be pinpoint accurate, but the way that Apple and Google do it is known as cell phone tower triangulation, which dosen’t give an exact location but rather a general area. Data can be sent to that area, picked up by a base station and then sent to your cell phone’s specific frequency or it’s SID. The only thing logged in the memory is the location of the tower you were near when the data was sent.

The reasons people are reporting the data to be so accurate is due to the fact a lot of people either have GPS enabled by default, or they’re using apps like Foursquare and Facebook check –in and giving the cache their exact location.

So why dosen’t turning off your phone stop the stream of data? Without going into too much detail, basically when you turn off your phone the battery keeps a leak charge running through the phones memory that keeps it updated. It only takes about 0.6-3 watts to keep your phone sending that data. The only solution is to take the battery out of your phone altogether, or just not use one if your going to be that paranoid about people finding out where you are or have been.

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