The Apple iPhone might be storing detailed information about users' whereabouts and uploading it to their computers when they synchronize their digital devices, say two British security researchers.
A program on the smartphone records geographic co-ordinates and a time stamp, which are then uploaded to a user's hard drive, meaning anyone with access to that drive could determine where a person has been and when.
"Apple has made it possible for almost anybody — a jealous spouse, a private detective — with access to your phone or computer to get detailed information about where you've been," Pete Warden, one of the researchers, told the Guardian newspaper.
Warden, along with co-researcher Alasdair Allan, announced their discovery at the Where 2.0 technology conference in Santa Clara, Calif., on Wednesday.
Attempts to contact Apple were not successful, and the company has not issued a statement about the claims.
Allan and Warden have set up a website detailing how the information is recorded, where it can be found and steps that can be taken to protect the information, including encrypting the data.
In a blog post on Radar O'Reilly, a technology website, they said the data collection feature seems to have first appeared with the release of iOS 4 in June 2010.
Allan and Wardan say the data is not transmitted anywhere else but is normally stored in an unprotected format. It is also transferred to a new Apple phone when that device is synched up with the computer.
"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," they wrote.
David Senf, director of infrastructure solutions at IDC Canada, a telecoms and IT services company, said he is not surprised by Allan and Wardan's finding. It is all part of the "ongoing saga" of data collection controversies, he said.
"There are a myriad of applications that are taking your info," Senf said, adding that mobile carriers already keep a record of your location. However, that information is supposed to be stored in a secure location and only available by court order.
"On the scale of things that I'm worried about, I'm far less worried about this," he said.
The real concern is if hackers are able to access your computer, he said.
Senf said this points to the need for consumers and businesses to use encryption software to protect data from potential cyberattacks.
According to a BBC News online article, the company can legitimately claim to have a right to the data, based on its terms and conditions.
"We may collect information such as occupation, language, zip code, area code, unique device identifier, location and the time zone where an Apple product is used so that we can better understand customer behavior and improve our products, services and advertising," the document says.