Apple recently reinforced its focus on privacy with the announcement of iOS 13. Alongside fan-favorite features such as Dark Mode, iOS 13 improves a user’s ability to manage the apps tracking their location in the background.
This increased control comes in the form of three new features:
- background location tracking transparency
- app location tracking permissions
- and location privacy enhancements.
In this post, we’ve detailed each of those new features and explained how to control your location privacy settings in iOS 13.
- iOS 13 privacy and security improvements announced at WWDC
- 7 iOS privacy tips and tricks you didn’t know
- How third parties track your iPhone location (beyond Location Services)
- Why do apps want permission to access Bluetooth in iOS 13 and iPadOS?
Background location tracking transparency
We should care more about our data. Every day, countless numbers of people agree to T&Cs, accept browsing cookies, or allow location tracking in iOS without a second thought. It’s become so commonplace and unavoidable that we don’t question it.
Apple is trying to change that with the privacy enhancements in iOS 13. The most notable change is the added transparency in background location tracking notifications.
These are the iOS notifications that warn you when an app has been tracking your location in the background. They aren’t new. But now they feature a map showing the details of where you’ve been tracked.
This should be the exact same information as before. But a visual representation really hammers home what data we’re allowing companies to gather on us.
Clearly, Apple’s intention is to encourage users to give more thought to who they share their location with.
App location tracking permissions
As Apple improves our awareness of the data we’re sharing with apps, they also give us new ways to control it.
Previously, iOS presented three options to control location tracking:
- While Using App
- or Don’t Allow.
These are pretty good options, but iOS 13 brings whole a new addition: Allow Once.
As you might expect, this option allows an app to track your location one time only. After you close the app it can’t track your location anymore unless you allow it again.
This is great for those of us who don’t use location-dependent features much. Apple encourages developers to offer app functionality without location access. So you can normally still do a lot without tracking turned on.
Location privacy enhancements
Apple has taken note of developers tracking locations in iOS without getting user consent. This was possible using Bluetooth and Wi-Fi instead of Apple’s Location Services API.
Every app that wishes to use Bluetooth in iOS 13 needs to request permission first. And we encourage you to deny Bluetooth access unless you know it’s needed.
Already, several users with the iOS 13 beta have commented on the surprising range of apps that request Bluetooth access. Some of these apps were surely using Bluetooth to track our location in the background of iOS without consent.
Why do apps need to track my location?
Location tracking can allow apps to provide a better quality of service to their users. This might come in the form of local recommendations, estimated travel times, or connecting with other users near you.
When an app requests permission to track your location, it should explain why it wants to do so in the notification.
Sometimes it’s obvious why they need it. For instance, Google Maps wants to give you directions or your Camera app wants to tag photos with their location. But other times, the reasons given are far vaguer and more difficult to grasp.
The truth of the matter is, plenty of apps track your location to target you with adverts. Sometimes they partner with advertisers and sometimes they sell the data to third-parties.
How do I find out which apps track my location in iOS 13?
You don’t need to wait for a notification to find out which apps track your location. Open Settings on your device and go to the Privacy screen, then tap Location Services. You should see a list of all the apps that have requested to track your location.
A gray arrow next to an app means it has used your location in the last 24 hours. A purple arrow means it has used your location more recently, probably in the last 30 minutes.
You also see the location tracking arrow appear in the status bar on your device whenever an app is tracking you. This can alert you to apps tracking you in the background or accessing your location when you don’t want them to.
By default, the status bar location icon doesn’t appear for System Services, like setting the time zone.
How do I stop apps from tracking my location in iOS 13?
From the Location Services screen in your Settings, tap any app to change its location access. In iOS 13 can choose from four different location tracking options:
- Ask Next Time
- While Using the App
- or Always.
Change the location access of an app at any time. Follow this link to find out other ways to improve your privacy with iOS.
The new features in iOS 13 give us the tools to decide when to share our location and when to keep it private. Hopefully it forces a positive trend in the tech industry, one toward transparent data collection.
We aren’t expecting a public release of iOS 13 until Fall this year. However, you can sign up for the Beta program to try out iOS 13 right now.
What are your thoughts on Apple’s focus on privacy? And how do you feel about apps tracking your location in iOS? For myself, I wish more companies took privacy as seriously as Apple appears to do.