Apple Explains Why Newer iPhones Share Location Data

There’s something strange going on with the iPhone 11 Pro. Security reporter Brian Krebs noticed that the iPhone 11 Pro intermittently seeks the user’s location information even when all applications and system services on the phone are individually set to never request this data.

On Nov. 13, KrebsOnSecurity contacted Apple to report this as a possible privacy bug in the new iPhone Pro and/or in iOS 13.x, sharing a video showing how the device still seeks the user’s location when each app and system service is set to “never” request location information (but with the main Location Data service still turned on).

You can watch that video on the KrebsOnSecurity website. The first response from Apple came from an Apple engineer that described what was happening as “expected behavior”. The engineer stated: “It is expected behavior that the Location Services icon appears in the status bar when Location Services is enabled. The icon appears for system services that do not have a switch in Settings.”

Personally, I think that’s really creepy. Brian Krebs rightfully pointed out that what is happening seems to contradict Apple’s recent commercials, which emphasize that Apple respects users privacy. I find it troubling that some of the newest Apple phones have been collecting location data without the user’s permission or knowledge. I also wonder why Apple failed to turn off something that they clearly were aware of. It feels sneaky.

Later, Apple provided more information to KrebsOnSecurity. The short version is that the behavior (which I think of as location tracking) is connected to a “new short-range technology that lets iPhone 11 users share files locally with other nearby phones that support this feature.” Apple said a future version of its mobile operating system will allow users to disable it. You can read more about this on KrebsOnSecurity.