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Location data found by researchers in a hidden file tracking the movements of an iPhone user. (Image: O'Reilly Radar)

Two researchers, Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden, are making headlines across the web today with news of their discovery that iPhones and 3G-enabled iPads have been recording the position of user devices into a hidden file since the introduction of iOS 4 last year.

The researchers have created a Mac OS X application called iPhone Tracker to allow users to see the data their devices are collecting about their location.

Upon reading the details I immediately thought back to a post last June on the personal blog of Kim Cameron, the Microsoft chief identity architect, spotlighting a change in Apple’s privacy policy — coinciding with the iOS 4 introduction.

That policy includes the following passage under the category of “non-personal information” that Apple can “collect, use, transfer, and disclose … for any purpose.”

We may collect information such as occupation, language, zip code, area code, unique device identifier, location, and the time zone where an Apple product is used so that we can better understand customer behavior and improve our products, services, and advertising.

In other words, the company has told us what it’s doing — and more than that, we’ve all agreed to it by accepting those updated terms and conditions so we can keep downloading apps and tracks.

Of course, in reality, this is one of those voluminous policies that most of us blindly accept rather than read in full. As Cameron noted in his post last June, the privacy policy spanned 45 pages when read on an iPhone — and the disclosure about collecting UIDs and location data as “non-personal information” was on Page 37. (What, you missed that?)

So technically, the news today shouldn’t be much of a surprise. But it’s good that the discovery of the hidden location file is getting so much attention, because now we can have the discussion and debate that we should have had last year … when Apple (very subtly) told us what it was doing.

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