Here is why your smartphone sends data about your location

by Volker Weber

Google and Apple are gathering location information as part of their race to build massive databases capable of pinpointing people's locations via their cellphones.

That is the reason your phone can show your location, immediately, even without GPS coverage and indoors. There is way more data available than GPS coordinates. It will tell the server which WLAN access points it sees, what the cell towers are around it, and of course also GPS coordinates if available. The server returns the location. And it learns from the data you sent over the network.

There is not much to gain for Apple or Google to know where vowe is. But there is a lot to gain from the data vowe's phone collects.

Personally I am not too concerned about operators or Apple and Google knowing about my location. Otherwise I would not carry a mobile phone at all. I even use services that track my iPhones, my BlackBerry as well as my Windows Phone 7. I would just like to know where they are when I lose them.

If you do not want to give up that information, you can tell your smartphone to not use location services. Or you could use a phone that does not even have that capability. Your carrier will still know where you are.

If you do use location services, Google or Apple should make a considerable effort to remove data that identifies you. According to the WSJ Android phones transmit a unique identifier which is not good. There is a lot of room for improvement here.

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Comments

I turned off location services on my Android device mainly because it drains the battery. I use it occasionally when needed (navigation, places in foreign cities etc.).

Axel Koerv, 2011-04-22

Found one weird gadget: for those who do not find the "turn off location services" switch (or have a paranoia), get this: http://www.gizmodo.de/2011/04/21/aluminiumhut-furs-handy.html

Axel Koerv, 2011-04-22

"Your carrier will still know where you are" --> it has been true at least since GSM and I don't think a lot of people is aware of this.

Giuseppe Grasso, 2011-04-22

I have no concerns about location based services at all. That was too weak. I am a big fan! I use Foursquare, Gowalla, MobileMe Find My iPhone/iPad and Google Latitude. My cell phone provider and my BlackBerry administrator know also where I am. I accept that because the added value for me is much bigger than the value for them. A billion times bigger.

But I have big concerns that the (miss-)understanding of the masses how this works and what it may be good for will be overruled because of their fear about the unknown. It may end up as with Google StreetView, which is dead in Germany.

Apple was not too clever to store all that information in such a way. And I think they should come back with a statement, the sooner, the better.

Sven Richert, 2011-04-22

Sven, your BlackBerry administrator does not know where you are. Your location is not reported back to the BlackBerry Enterprise Server.

Abdelkader Boui, 2011-04-22

Abdelkader, are you the Administrator and switched it off?

Peter Meuser, 2011-04-22

There is nothing to switch off. By default the device is not reporting back the location to the BES. You need 3rd party products to be able to report on the location of a BES-connected BlackBerry device.

Abdelkader Boui, 2011-04-23

Re the unique identifier of Androids: if you choose complete reset, the ID changes.

Detlef Borchers, 2011-04-23

Abdelkader, that is just half of the truth. It is true, that you need a third party tool to record and report the ongoing device location data. But the the location will be send to BES by default. You will find it unencrypted in the SQL-Server. ( btw: BES is recording all phone call parties by default, too)

Peter Meuser, 2011-04-23

Peter, Abdelkader is THE expert on BES. So I would be careful.

A quote from the BES reference:

Enable Enterprise Location Tracking IT policy ruleDescriptionThis rule specifies whether a BlackBerry® device can use the GPS feature to report its location to the BlackBerry® Enterprise Server regularly. A BlackBerry device user must click Yes when prompted to permit location tracking on a BlackBerry device.Default valueThe default value is No. The default interval is 15 minutes.UsageChange this rule to Yes to permit a BlackBerry device user to require that a BlackBerry device report its location to the BlackBerry Enterprise Server at regular intervals. You can use the Enterprise Location Tracking Interval IT policy rule to change the interval.

One does not have to switch it off. Abdelkader knows that. You don't. He also knows a few things he did not tell you. I would rest my case, if I were you. ;-)

Volker Weber, 2011-04-24

Thanks, Volker. I just wanted to quote the very same setting from the BES IT policy reference guide. :-)

Abdelkader Boui, 2011-04-24

Abdelkader and Volker: Indeed, I was incorrect, that location tracking is switched on by default. If you switch it on, the user will be asked to allow it (BES >= 5.0, BES

Peter Meuser, 2011-04-24

Abdelkader and Volker: Indeed, I was incorrect, that location tracking is switched on by default. If you switch it on, the user will be asked to allow it (BES starting with version 5.0, earlier versions do not ask), after that a customizable message like „BlackBerry services restored“ can be displayed (Policy „Enterprise Location Tracking User Prompt Message“). You find the last transmitted location data here:

DB "BESMgmt", Table: "SyncLBS", 
Columns:

Id
User
ConfigId

RecordType

RecordTimestamp

ServerTime

Latitude

Longitude

Altitude

DeviceStatus

Data

If you want to do something useful with this information, you have to read it out regularely.
Abdelkader, is this correct, so far?

Peter Meuser, 2011-04-24

Peter, I guess you wanted to write is "switched off by default". ;-)

Just to summarize everything and avoid any confusion:
Enterprise Location tracking is not enabled by default. With BES 5.0 and even older BES versions the user will receive an Enterprise location tracking request on the device when the administrator enables this feature on the BlackBerry Enterprise Server. The user can reject this request. In this case the device will not report any data back to the server. If the user accepts the location tracking request, the user will see the customizable message (IT Policy value "Enterprise Location Tracking User Prompt Message"). If location tracking is enabled, the location data is stored in the SyncLBS table.

Abdelkader Boui, 2011-04-24

Yes, Abdelkader, "on" was a typo... Is it right, that the user request to allow Location Tracking was introduced with BES 5.0?

Peter Meuser, 2011-04-24

In any case, it has been off by default. :-)

Volker Weber, 2011-04-24

No, this prompt was there long before BES 5.0.

Abdelkader Boui, 2011-04-24

Volker, no question, you are are right (sometime it is better to recheck things than just trusting your own memory - recording phone call data is switched on by default, but not recording location data... ;-). Sometime ago I did some tests with the location data recording following this post:

http://www.blackberryforums.com/bes-admin-corner/143627-location-based-services-lbs-otherwise-known-gps-policies.html

But if Abdelkader as THE expert, will say I am wrong I am - of course - wrong (I don't want to reinstall this old crap, just to ... :-)

At least, Volker, I am with you, that the discussion about the location tracking activities of the iPhone isn't something really new.

Peter Meuser, 2011-04-24

Hello there,

Is there a way, when i get a blackberry, to block this Enterprise Location tracking service on my phone even when it is set on before i get the phone?

Hans Vergeer, 2011-05-29

Hans, you can turn Location Based Services OFF on your phone - Then the BES Admin will not be able to see any location data, even if this feature has been turned ON by them. If this feature is OFF and the BES Admin wants to turn it ON - You will received an alert message that BES Admin wants to collect location Data, you can reject this request if you wish, but they will know you have rejected it!

Duncan James, 2012-01-22

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