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Why is Apple tracking the locations of iPhone and iPad users? The reason is probably less Big Brother and more Big Glitch, according to blogger John Gruber.

Gruber’s source told him that the much-maligned tracking file is just a cache for location data, and that the historical data isn’t being cleared due to a bug or an oversight. But the source didn’t downplay the implications of the issue, according to what appears to be a fragment of an email from Gruber’s “little bird”:

“But still! What a nervous can of worms. This is an open, unlocked file in a known location in a standard database format that anybody can read. If someone has physical access to your Mac — or remote access to your user account — it’s a simple matter of copying a file and opening it. And while the logfile can’t tell someone that you were at a specific house, it can obviously tell your boss that you went to the Cape on the day you called in sick.”

Developers Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden brought the tracking issue to light yesterday at the Where 2.0 conference in San Francisco. Allan said he stumbled upon the tracking file while looking at iTunes backup files on his computer. The file contained thousands of datapoints of geographical coordinates and timestamps.

For a video of Allan and Warden discussing their discovery and its implications, check out our coverage of yesterday’s announcement.

[Steve Jobs image via acaben/Flickr]

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