Researchers: Apple's data collection practices may be part of Wi-Fi hotspot mapping database

Amid the firestorm that Apple's iPhone 4 has been collecting location data, security firm F-Secure claims the data collection is not new and is likely part of Apple's efforts to develop a Wi-Fi hotspot mapping database.

Citing details outlined by forensic researcher Alex Levinson, F-Secure stressed that the information collected on the device was only sent with user permission and had been included in Apple's terms and conditions for the last year.

"For GPS-enabled devices with location-based capabilities toggled to 'On', Apple automatically collects Wi-Fi Access Point Information and GPS co-ordinates when a device is searching for a cellular network," the company explained. "The information and the GPS co-ordinates are stored (or 'batched') on the device and added to the information sent to Apple."

Apple has yet to offer details on the subject, leaving security researchers to speculate on why the company was collecting the information.

British researchers Alisdair Allan and Pete Warden reported the discovery that iPhone and iPod devices have recorded location and time-stamp data since the mid-2010 release of the iOS 4 software update, effectively creating a comprehensive log of all user movement and activities during that time.

"We're not sure why Apple is gathering this data, but it's clearly intentional, as the database is being restored across backups, and even device migrations," the researchers said. "What makes this issue worse is that the file is unencrypted and unprotected, and it's on any machine you've synced with your iOS device. It can also be easily accessed on the device itself if it falls into the wrong hands. Anybody with access to this file knows where you've been over the last year, since iOS 4 was released."

For more:
- see this PC Pro article
- see this FierceMobileContent article

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