Can your iPhone transmit your location data even if it is switched off?
This not an idle question. Washington Post recently claimed that NSA has been collecting location data from powered down phones for almost a decade now. And when British watchdog Privacy International checked with the cellphone makers if such thing is possible, Nokia and Samsung kind of denied it, many others, including Apple, didn’t reply, and Ericsson said that it is possible if you’ll infect the phone with the right malware.
So what about your iPhone? Well, it does not do anything like that today. But Apple started toying with the idea to enable its smartphones to send the location data even when they are powered down, last year. The technology and why Apple is thinking about it is described in their patent application called Apparatus and method for determining a wireless devices location after shutdown.
Don’t worry, Tim Cook didn’t sell out to the NSA. There actually is a very good reason for your powered down iPhone to sometimes wake-up and check-in. And the reason is - possible loss or theft.
Apple already provides iPhone locating service today. But it only works when your device is powered on. What if the thief switches it off as soon as he gets away? You are out of luck.
So Apple had an idea. They designed a system that periodically and quietly powers up your switched off iPhone, and sends its location data to servers in Cupertino. It does not always do that, and has to be actively enabled and configured by you. Also, you can disable the check-in system simply by entering a security code when you are switching off your device.
If the code is correct – your iPhone stays off no matter what. But if it’s the wrong one, or someone doesn’t know they have to enter the code – periodic and silent wake-ups and check-ins start. Furthermore, your iPhone can quietly snap and send in a picture or two of its surroundings as well.
Sounds like a pretty useful feature to me.
Unfortunately, due to all this Snowden hoopla, it’ll probably remain in some unreleased version of iOS for now.