Did you know your iPhone is silently tracking you as you walk down the street? It’s not a nefarious government conspiracy (but, would we know if it was?) it’s just the way the iPhone is set up. 

With wi-fi and GPS enabled (which is standard, as far as I can tell from my own phone) your iPhone is constantly detecting any available wi-fi networks as you walk down the street. This is why those annoying “Available Wireless Network” messages keep popping up while you’re checking email or Twitter as you walk. 

The Christian Science Monitor recently reported that security researchers have discovered that your iPhone is constantly sending the location of every wi-fi router you encounter back to the Apple HQ, as this helps the mapping software be more accurate. Of course, as anyone who’s watched a Jason Bourne movie knows, this could potentially make triangulation of your location easy for anyone who cares to keep tabs on you: hackers, an ex-boyfriend, or big brother.

There’s a simple fix for this issue, thankfully: simply disable your GPS and data sharing. Obviously, this may not be practical if you’re visiting a new city and are depending on the map app to find your way around, but if you’re just taking a walk around the neighborhood on your lunch-break, you probably don’t need an app in the first place.

Another quirk of the iOS devices (the larger Apple family) is that whenever you connect to a new wi-fi network (as you may at your favorite coffee shop) the software broadcasts the MAC address of the last three wi-fi networks you connected with -- even if the wi-fi network is encrypted. Again, it’s apparently a “feature” to enhance the accuracy of Apple maps. Researchers have shown that it is possible to scoop these location codes from the wi-fi signal and cross reference them with online databases to reveal the exact GPS coordinates of the devices. This means that a hacker could theoretically discover your home or work location while you’re ordering your latte.

Again, the quick and easy way around this security flaw is to turn off automatic searching for local wi-fi access points -- remember, your iPhone will still function just fine without wi-fi access (although your data usage costs may increase if you’re a heavy user).  Apple will no doubt issue a patch to address these concerns in due course, but it’s always a good idea for iPhone (and iPad, Macbook, etc.) users to be more mindful of the data your device is exchanging with every wi-fi access point it encounters.

Bottom line: disable your iPhone’s GPS and data sharing when you’re out unless you really need them. These are simple on/off toggles within the settings app, and it only takes a moment to switch them back on when necessary.

Stop your iphone tracking you
Credit: Rich Rennicks

It goes everywhere you do. How better track somebody?

Wi-fi tracking your phone
Credit: Rich Rennicks
iPhone: The Missing Manual (Missing Manuals)
Amazon Price: $24.99 $4.92 Buy Now
(price as of Apr 2, 2016)