Internet already worried about iOS 7 location tracking, fails to learn from history

iOS 7 will apparently show you locations you've frequented in the past. That's likely still under NDA, but Apple apparently confirmed it. The point of this piece isn't the feature, however, the point is the artificial panic that will no doubt be manufactured around that story by the mix of sensationalist reporting and mainstream users not familiar with how location technology works. Charlie Warzel, in a piece titled "This Is What It Looks Like When Your Phone Tracks Your Every Move" writes for BuzzFeed:

For iOS 7 (expected to be released to the public in September) users, that information is about to become much more accessible, as one Hacker News commenter pointed out this morning. Using iOS 7 Beta 5, the user noticed that anyone with enabled “location services” can easily access their “frequent locations,” in iOS 7’s privacy settings. The result is a mapped history of the places you’ve been since installing the operating system. Apple confirmed to BuzzFeed that this is a consumer feature for iOS 7 and not a developer-only setting.

Since iOS 7 hasn't shipped yet, and may or may not include the feature being discussed when it does ship, that may or may not end up even being a thing. Regardless, if this all sounds familiar, it's because it is. The same thing happened in 2011. You can Google "Apple locationgate" to see all the results, but it started with a report by Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden on Radar:

Today at Where 2.0 Pete Warden and I will announce the discovery that your iPhone, and your 3G iPad, is regularly recording the position of your device into a hidden file. Ever since iOS 4 arrived, your device has been storing a long list of locations and time stamps. We’re not sure why Apple is gathering this data, but it’s clearly intentional, as the database is being restored across backups, and even device migrations.

Back then, mainstream outlets picked up the story, my mom called me in a panic, and a lot of time and energy was wasted on a process that really was fairly benign, as was later elaborated on by Apple, and "fixed" in iOS 4.3 (by ending location database backup).

With iOS 7, if BuzzFeed's report is accurate, and nothing in the process has fundamentally change, it's a feature that has to be enabled by users on setup (allowing the iPhone to use your location has been opt-in for years), and will now also include a user-facing interface so you can actually see what's been recorded. And that, apparently, might scare people. Not the headlines that make it sound scary, of course, but the non-hidden, still relatively benign, still opt-in and disable-able, user facing feature.

Apple should absolutely make sure the existing location opt-in stays that way, and that the existing Privacy controls with granular location toggles in Settings stay there, and that anyone who finds a map of their locations is shown what it is, why it is, and how to clear/turn it off if they so choose. Beyond that, however, it isn't Apple's problem anymore. It's ours. The media's.

2013 could indeed be like 2011, but lets hope the media has at least learned to be more responsible over the intervening years. We're not off to a great start, granted, but we have a chance to do better for our readers now than we did then, and we owe it to them to take it. Otherwise, if/when my mom calls, I'm pointing her at the nearest, most sensationalistic reporter I can find, and demanding they explain why they scared her.

Source: BuzzFeed via Ben Thompson

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Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

Internet already worried about iOS 7 location tracking, fails to learn from history


The problem: Artifical panic
The solution: Artificial reassurance

It really is ridiculous the way fake journalists like this can belittle speculation with more speculation because in the end then nobody knows anything but everyone is talking like experts.

I don't think user tracking is something anyone should sit back on especially now these companies collude with govt agencies to monitor people. But I'm sure your piece is too try and belittle anyone who asks why they need to track us anyway?

Edit: I saw the iOS in the car picture, and thought it was about that, not just the places you've frequented, my mistake. This is about that and not the places you've visited. Guess I shouldn't post so early...

What bugs me about this though, isn't the tracking, as my phones do that anyways. My issue is that this is seens like it's only iPhone compatible. Basically, it seems the car companies are saying "Well, you use Android/WP/BB, we don't care about your integration, you can die looking at your phone, we don't care". Or did I miss something and is it compatible? It could be a "Well don't use it", but I just mean, they're taking sides (which they shouldn't from a financial standpoint as there isn't an *overwhelming* majority of iOS users) and for a lot of people it isn't something they'll change out if they don't use iOS. Or is this optional and am I again missing something?

I know there might not be a way for Android/WP/BB to do some of these features yet (but I think Google Now does a good job), but I'd think they could do platform agnostic standards (they = car companies, I know Apple wouldn't, and shouldn't be expected to).

Rene, your articles used to be the best on this site but now it seems you're always worried about what everyone else on the internet is saying about apple! IMO these kind of articles are not what this site is about, just look at the feedback you're getting, and I've stopped frequenting this site because of these articles wich all happen to be written by you. Who cares what anyone thinks about apple, the people comming here obviosly like apple. I want the old imore back! Go and find it Rene.

Rene, I disagree that we shouldn't worry. I think we have every reason to worry now that we know all of the major carriers collude with our governments. I personally have a problem with this tracking. However, if Apple does indeed allow an "opt-out," that truly opts you out, then I say use at your own risk and don't blame anyone.

I think opt-in features assume a level of understanding that the vast majority of users simply do not have.

What I love is how people jump up and say "We SHOULD worry.." "We SHOULD question..." but Google glass which has the ability to take picture, video and record audio and is connected all the time no one seems to have an issue with it? Everyone wants to panic but no one is willing to say exactly what can be done with the data that you are so worried about? You are being tracked so what? why does that worry you is the real argument to put forth. If someone said I'm worried a hacker can use it to tell when I'm not home and rob me that is a real arguement for why it would worry you. Simply questioning it just because you can seems so pointless.