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I Didn’t Know That, But You Shouldn’t Know It Either

January 28, 2014

No George. Technology doesn’t work that way.

I’m telling you, that Apple can track your iPad through the wifi networks.

George, I do this stuff for a living. Trust me, Apple cannot access an iPad over random wifi networks.

Well, George wasn’t right, but as I was to discover he also wasn’t totally wrong. George is my brother-in-law. We were at a wedding reception for our niece. We were content to sit out of the way and hope no one asked us to help in any way. Technically I was watching kids while my lovely wife helped her sister, the mother-of-the-bride. I say, I was supposed to watch them, but the backyard was fenced, so it’s not like they were going anywhere.

I explained to George about losing my iPad several months earlier (I’m Not The Sharpest Tool In The Drawer.) I explained that even though I had enabled the Find My iPad feature, because I had a screen lock enabled, no one could access the iPad and if they couldn’t access it, then they couldn’t authenticate on a network and let the iPad “phone home.” The iPad is wifi only. If it had cellular capacity, it would have been able to use that connection to phone home. But the wifi only version couldn’t broadcast it’s location unless it was on an authenticated network.

George was convinced that if the iPad was turned on, Apple could find it if it was within range of a wifi network, any wifi network. George manages a museum. He’s a smart guy, but his technical training was not much more than what was needed to set up his home computer.

I, on the other hand, had a long and impressive resume. I’d worked for some of the biggest computer companies in the world. I’d flown all over the world to deliver training classes. I’d written books on computers. I wasn’t trying to be condescending, but there was no way he knew more about networks than I did.

Yeah. . .I didn’t know quite what I thought I did.

George tried to convince me that iPads tracked their location based on wifi. I in turn tried to explain Global Positioning Satellites (GPS.) He wasn’t getting it. Finally, I told my son to go get my iPad from the car. We had used the maps feature on the iPad to find our way to this house. I’d show him exactly how you configure the GPS settings.

It was several minutes before I admitted defeat.

Okay, he had the good grace to not tell me “I told you so.”

When did Apple stop using GPS? And I had never heard of them using wifi to track your location, but it’s brilliant.

So score one for George.

And I’m sure that Apple can trace you through those wifi connections.

This time I stopped short of telling him he didn’t know what he was talking about. But, I explained authentication. And the NSA might be able to hijack your wifi router and push their own data through it, but there was no way that Apple could do that. I explained that the iPad was simply asking each wifi router for it’s location. Actually, it’s asking for the IP address and then trying to approximate the location.

But, if it can get that information, it can still send data back to Apple!

No, see the iPad is doing the equivalent of reading street numbers and then mapping those. What you are suggesting is the equivalent of breaking into people’s houses and using their phones. The iPad, and Apple don’t have the capability to do something like that.

Uh huh. That’s what you said about the iPad using wifi to map its location.

Okay, that’s a good point.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife and thirteen children.

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss)
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss)
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

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