Paranoid about iPhone & iPad Location Tracking? Encrypt your iOS Backups

Apr 21, 2011 - 4 Comments

Encrypt iOS Backups and Prevent Movement Tracking

This whole iPhone location tracker thing is getting a crazy amount of attention, and everyone seems surprised that a mobile device with a gazillion apps that ask for your location actually keeps track of your location. But, if you don’t want your location tracked, all you have to do is encrypt your iPhone & iOS backups. OSXDaily has covered that tip before, but here’s a reminder how to do this:

Prevent iOS Movement Tracking with Encrypted Backups

  • Launch iTunes and connect your iPhone or iPad to the computer
  • Within iTunes Summary, scroll down to Options where you’ll see a checkbox next to “Encrypt iPhone/iPad Backup” – check it

You’ll be asked to set a password for the backups and now they’re encrypted, meaning no one can read them without that password. This means that iPhone Tracker app won’t work. Easy enough, right?

Encryption is Good Anyway
Encrypting your backups is a good idea for general security purposes anyway. The iOS backup files are easily found and explored without encryption, which lets someone with access to the files listen to your voicemails, read your sms messages, and, as the recent hooplah shows, track your relative movements on a map.

Encrypt your data and you don’t have to worry about any of it.

iOS Update to Resolve Location Caching
While it’s a great idea to encrypt data, you probably won’t have to for long to stop the movement tracking. John Gruber informs us that the storage of location data is simply a cache file that isn’t getting cleared, and will be fixed in an upcoming iOS update:

my little-birdie-informed understanding is that consolidated.db acts as a cache for location data, and that historical data should be getting culled but isn’t, either due to a bug or, more likely, an oversight. I.e. someone wrote the code to cache location data but never wrote code to cull non-recent entries from the cache, so that a database that’s meant to serve as a cache of your recent location data is instead a persistent log of your location history. I’d wager this gets fixed in the next iOS update.

In other words, encrypt your backups for now, and wait for an iOS update to cure it all.

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Posted by: Matt Chan in iPad, iPhone

4 Comments

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  1. Mandroid says:

    “everyone seems surprised that a mobile device with a gazillion apps that ask for your location actually keeps track of your location.”

    Nailed it.

    What do people think it’s asking your location for? To send you fairy dust? What do you think it’s going to do with that location data? Not store it for use? FFS people.

    All cell phones do this, all location apps do this, Facebook does this, FourSquare does this, Yelp does this, Google does this, Google maps does this, GPS units do this, OnStar navigation does this, everything does this. Here’s a hint: if it is location based or has location assistance, it keeps track of your location.

    Enough already, this is only news because it’s Apple.

  2. Adam says:

    For those that are after the CDMA (Verizon) version of the iPhone Tracker: http://blog.swinden.com/post/4805659184/iphonetrackercdma

  3. Jay says:

    it seems that Encryption is not so Safe Anyway afterall:

    http://gigaom.com/apple/ios-encrypted-backups-are-now-crackable/

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