Consolidated.db file in iOS 4 stores iPhone and iPad users’ location data

Wed, Apr 20, 2011


GPS is great. Whether you’re walking to a local park or embarking on a long road trip, the ability to constantly map where you are and map out where you want to go is a lifesaver. But as with any technology, there’s always some bad that accompanies the good.

WIth the advent of smartphones, what we do and where we go have never been more accessible to other people. But remember that not everyone is a fan of FourSquare and not everyone wants their comings and goings made public.

That said, iPhone owners might be interested to know that iOS 4 tracks the location of a user’s iPhone and/or iPad consistently, and subsequently stores that location data into a hidden file called “consolidated.db.” The aforementioned file encompasses latitude and longitude information coupled with a timestamp for each data point.

News of this was first relayed by researchers Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden who note that a typical data file can often contain tens of thousands of locations.

This by itself isn’t entirely new as the consolidated.db file has previously been used in forensic investigations by various law enforcement agencies, but what is new is the revelation that the file is present on iOS devices themselves and isn’t protected or subject to any encryption. Naturally, this raises some privacy and security concerns. security and privacy implications. We’ve contacted Apple’s Product Security team, but we haven’t heard back.

What makes this issue worse is that the file is unencrypted and unprotected, and it’s on any machine you’ve synched with your iOS device. It can also be easily accessed on the device itself if it falls into the wrong hands. Anybody with access to this file knows where you’ve been over the last year, since iOS 4 was released.

Below is a video showing a timelapse of a user’s location using an iPhoneTracking tool from the researchers.

Washington DC to New York from Alasdair Allan on Vimeo.


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