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.