New tool provides optional upload of iPhone location data

The Research and Development Group at the New York Times Company has released a tool to allow iPhone users to upload their location data. The information – which is anonymous – will then be available to groups who apply to access the data.

Explanations here and here on the website state:

This data represents a unique opportunity to help solve some of the world’s toughest problems. We believe you should have the option of donating your data in an open, secure fashion, while maintaining control of your information and where it goes.

Research requests are received from any and all projects – public, private, commercial, academic, artistic, or governmental. Requests typically look at specific geographical areas or demographic information about their subjects, so research requests include these criteria. Based on this information, users receive monthly updates that list the projects where their data is a good fit, and are offered the opportunity to donate their data.

In return, we ask researchers to provide a small benefit to their data donors. This might be a custom visualization of a donor’s location information, access to the results of the research, or other related benefits.

When researchers revealed that iPhones had been recording location data, concerns were raised about privacy.

As explained in this article in the Guardian:

Security researchers discovered that Apple‘s iPhone keeps track of where you go – and saves every detail of it to a secret file on the device which is then copied to the owner’s computer when the two are synchronised.

The file contains the latitude and longitude of the phone’s recorded coordinates along with a timestamp, meaning that anyone who stole the phone or the computer could discover details about the owner’s movements using a simple program.

For some phones, there could be almost a year’s worth of data stored, as the recording of data seems to have started with Apple’s iOS 4 update to the phone’s operating system, released in June 2010.

Apple has now released a software update 4.3.3 to fix this. Anyone who wants to make their data available should hold off installing it.

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