Your cell phone probably can track your location. Ordinarily, users authorize tracking, that information is kept behind a firewall, and can be retrieved for your purposes but no one else’s without a court order.


But Pete Warden and Alasdair Allan, data scientists, found a file named consolidated.db in Apple iPhones. It contains information that is neither encrypted nor protected. Apple didn’t tell its customers or the public about this. Apple doesn’t ask iPhone owners’ permissions. Apple doesn’t provide a way to erase the information the device and hosts acquire. We don’t know the reason this capability was added to the iPhone OS.


The iPhone collects its coordinates and retains longitude and latitude data and timestamps its readings.


If this were provided as an option, well and good. But there is no opt-in process, and no opt-out.


This “feature” is part of iOS 4, the operating system iPhone users have had for about a year now. In that time, some iPhone users have had hundreds of thousands of “data points” recorded. How? How often? Why?


Location data collection appears to be accomplished by means of cell tower triangulation. Timing varies.


As to why Apple wants iPhones to capture and maintain the data, various possibilities come to mind. The data could have market value. Data miners might combine it and poke around in it for advertising guidance. Private or government investigators might make use of it, as could criminals.


Other cell phones that can record location readings are up-front about that feature, and you can turn it on or not, and you can delete their “stores.”


Allan and Warden made an app, which iPhone owners can download, that lets users see the location information that has been recorded. The troubling part of that is that it demonstrates that others can see this too if they have access to your iPhone or to the back-ups created when you have synced since iOS 4.


Meanwhile, the European Parliament has voted to update its data protection directive, which was enacted nearly seven years ago.


Beginning on May 25, no hardware, software or firmware vendors may put cookies on users’ systems or devices without specific opt-ins. This will apply to computers, tablets, smartphones, data storage of all sorts, USB keys, external drives including flash drives and opticals.


What if you want cookies, for your surfing or connecting or sign-in convenience? The European measure permits those, via opt-in. Self-renewing, involuntary or malignant cookies are banned.


iPhone owners using the device in Europe will be violating the new measure, unless iOS 4 has been updated or replaced with a version without consolidated.db—something that has not been promised by Apple last time I checked.


On this side of the water, a new data privacy bill has been introduced in Congress.


*    *    *


Windows 8? What is that about? Aren’t we just nicely getting used to 7, or still thinking about buying it?


Actually a fairly recent build (7850) has been leaked, and someone put it onto a torrent site or two or three, so there are many people out there doing their idea of informal beta testing, hacking away at it.


An official beta of Windows 8 is said to be coming this fall, and product release is still spoken of as “coming in 2012.” We’ll see.


No, I have not downloaded the leaked build, but I know someone who probably has. If others out there have, I’d be interested in their reactions.


The leaked build I am talking about is said to be “mostly” from a late 2010 stage. It contains many Windows 7 elements, according to some posts by users.


I don’t think anyone should be surprised to see that there are Windows 7 features in Windows 8. After all, there were many features in the works during the lengthy developmental history of 7, and not all of them were ready or made the cut in the release version back then. Some of us expected more would be available as updates, but the many downloaded updates have been mostly for bug extermination and tweaking.


One change in 8, from present appearances, is inclusion of an Advanced Task Bar. It will have graphs that show the CPU and memory, network connections and disk load, probably in a tiled array.


Numerous “cloud” features are promised, and some are evident in this build.


I’ll let you know if I don’t wait for the official beta.