How many applications on your iPhone know your location? Many. Perhaps too many. Luke Dormehl wrote about how Google apps on your iPhone could be used by authorities to track anyone near a crime scene at the time of a crime. The implications here are staggering.
Raleigh police have presented Google with broad search warrants, requesting user data from all mobile devices with a certain vicinity of particular crimes. In one case, Google was reportedly asked for unique data for all homes and businesses within a 17-acre area of a gun-related incident.
iPhone or Android smartphones track user locations ad nauseam. Open Settings on iPhone. Tap Privacy. Tap Location Services. What you’ll see is a long list of the applications on your iPhone and which ones use location services to track you. I’ll bet you have a few Google apps on that list.
This isn’t just an opportunity for authorities to take your iPhone and examine it if they suspect you were near a crime scene at the time it was committed. As Raleigh police (and likely other authorities) have shown, the can request Google and Apple to turn over evidence of any user or customer who may have been near a crime scene on a specific date and time.
We have a long-established process that determines how law enforcement may request data about our users. We carefully review each request and always push back when they are overly broad.
Of course, Apple has a similar response. They want to help, but what each company can do has limitations. Let’s say there was a serious crime committed somewhere in your community. Authorities have the right to ask– not always with promise to receive– Google and Apple who may have been near the crime scene at the time.
Such requests might help track specific people, and that could help find witnesses to the crime, or perhaps the criminal.
Our iPhones are information storehouses that go beyond just location. The Apple Health application can be matched to location-based data that authorities can use to recreate steps and actions before, during, and after a crime. If authorities are allowed to cast a wide net, what other activities will be caught and pulled in?
Consider it likely that most of us pay little attention to the location and privacy controls on our iPhones. But the data is there and it gets harvested– Google, Facebook, Amazon et al are good examples– and can be used to benefit and enrich those who know what to do with it. It may also be harvested and used by authorities to track criminal activity– whether a crime has yet been committed or not.
Yes, your iPhone’s location could be used to snitch on you so pay close attention to the settings in Settings > Privacy > Locations, and take some time to wade through all the ways Facebook tracks their users.
Oh, and remember this– if you’re a user and not a customer then you’re the product.