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iPhone 11 is using location services and we don't know why

iPhone 11 Pro
iPhone 11 Pro (Image credit: iMore)

What you need to know

  • A security report claims that Apple's iPhone 11 Pro is using location data even when location services are set to "never".
  • The report suggests that there are some system services using location data on the new iPhone which cannot be disabled by users.
  • According to the report, Apple says that this is expected behavior.

A report suggests that Apple's iPhone 11 Pro is using location data, even if you think you've switched off your location services.

According to KrebsonSecurity:

One of the more curious behaviors of Apple's new iPhone 11 Pro is that it 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. Apple says this is by design, but that response seems at odds with the company's own privacy policy.

The report first notes Apple's privacy policy, which explains what happens when your location services are turned on. It then highlights how the policy explains how a user can disable all location services by switching 'Location Services' to 'off' within iOS' privacy settings. The report then notes:

The policy continues: "You can also disable location-based system services by tapping on System Services and turning off each location-based system service." But apparently there are some system services on this model (and possibly other iPhone 11 models) which request location data and cannot be disabled by users without completely turning off location services, as the arrow icon still appears periodically even after individually disabling all system services that use location.

An accompanying YouTube video shows an iPhone running iOS 13.2.3, in which all of the system services are individually toggled so as not to use location data. Despite this, the location services icon seems to intermittently show up on the device, suggesting location services are still in use.

In response, an Apple engineer said:

"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"

"The icon appears for system services that do not have a switch in Settings."

As the report states, this seems to imply that even if you turn off location services for every single app and system service on your device, there are some services within iOS that you do not have the option to turn off. This means that the iPhone 11 Pro may be using location services regardless of what settings you select. The report notes that Apple has not responded to any follow-up questions regarding this issue. At this stage, it's totally unclear whether the phone is actually collecting any of the data, or if that data is being transmitted.

https://twitter.com/reneritchie/status/1202207429037035522

If the report is indeed true, it could raise some serious questions about Apple's Privacy, if its latest iPhone is found to be collecting and using location services despite the appearance that all such services can be disabled within iOS by users.

Stephen Warwick
Stephen Warwick

Stephen Warwick has written about Apple for five years at iMore and previously elsewhere. He covers all of iMore's latest breaking news regarding all of Apple's products and services, both hardware and software. Stephen has interviewed industry experts in a range of fields including finance, litigation, security, and more. He also specializes in curating and reviewing audio hardware and has experience beyond journalism in sound engineering, production, and design.

Before becoming a writer Stephen studied Ancient History at University and also worked at Apple for more than two years. Stephen is also a host on the iMore show, a weekly podcast recorded live that discusses the latest in breaking Apple news, as well as featuring fun trivia about all things Apple.

5 Comments
  • I moved to the Apple ecosystem because of the company's firm stance on user privacy. Little things like this however, aggravate me. And Apple's statement in response simply isn't good enough for me. The implied behavior of the toggles in question were to completely disable the use of location services. Period! A simple disclaimer beside the toggle, describing the use of essential, periodic location pings would have been advised just to have avoided the sort of concern this behavior has caused.
  • Reason # 17 to avoid iOS 13. Still on 12.4.1. here.
  • In addition to the toggles for individual applications and system services, there is a global toggle at the top of Location Services window. So, if you really want no location information shared, that would be what you would toggle. It's not clear that that was done here.
  • "But apparently there are some system services on this model (and possibly other iPhone 11 models) which request location data and cannot be disabled by users without completely turning off location services" So - according to this - they did not turn off location services completely. It APPEARS that the global off switch kills all of this stuff. Assuming this is true, then I don't have a problem with any of this. There IS a way to turn it all off. As long as the global off switch does, in fact, turn off EVERYTHING. OTOH, there should also be individual off switches for each service. I can see that point too. But if the global off switch leaves some services running, then I have BIG problem with that. That would be Google-style deception. There is also a very detailed explanation of what is going on by tapping the "About Location Services & Privacy" link.
  • I'm pretty sure the global off switch turns them all off, I've tried it and not noticed it using location services for anything. Even if this was the case, it's most likely a bug, and not necessarily surprising given how buggy iOS 13 has been