iPhone 11 Tracks Users When Location Services Turned Off

Privacy is a large part of Apple’s consumer appeal. Recent findings reveal that the iPhone 11 can track your whereabouts even when Location Services are disabled.

By Chand Bellur

January 1, 2020 at 4:22 p.m. PDT

iPhone 11 Tracks Users When Location Services Disabled

Ever get the feeling that someone is watching you? Although Apple isn’t watching their customers, the iPhone 11 certainly knows their whereabouts.

Security expert Brian Krebs recently found that the iPhone 11 still tracks location, even when Location Services are turned off.

Apple disclosed that iPhone 11 location is periodically polled for a file sharing feature. While this statement is accurate, it doesn’t explain why users can’t opt out of the feature. It turns out that the iPhone 11 needs to be aware of a user’s location at all times, in order to comply with international regulations.

Location Used to Determine Ultra Wideband Prohibited Areas

The iPhone 11 features new ultra wideband cellular technology. Complying with international regulations, Apple must turn off ultra wideband connectivity in certain locations. In order to detect an ultra wideband prohibited area, the iPhone 11 must poll the user’s location.

This surveillance is used solely for the purposes of complying with international regulations. Third-party apps and Apple’s built-in apps cannot use this location data for their purposes.

An Apple spokesperson explained the legal requirement to TechCrunch:

Ultra wideband technology is an industry standard technology and is subject to international regulatory requirements that require it to be turned off in certain locations. iOS uses Location Services to help determine if iPhone is in these prohibited locations in order to disable ultra wideband and comply with regulations… The management of ultra wideband compliance and its use of location data is done entirely on the device and Apple is not collecting user location data.”

Minor Privacy Concerns

Privacy advocates may be alarmed that turning off Location Services doesn’t really disable geographical tracking. Although Apple claims to use the technology to satisfy regulatory requirements, it could possibly give them an edge. Apple could, one day, decide to collect the data. They could also forgo data collection, yet use the location information dynamically and disposably in their own apps, denying competitors this advantage.

Another concern is that malicious users may one day figure out how to access this location information. Although iOS is locked down, no operating system has perfect security. As long as location data is polled, it’s theoretically possible to access it.

For now, the iPhone 11 is using Location Services appropriately. There are no reports of cyber criminals using this discrete location data to their advantage. If anything, it shows that we live in a world where we can’t really opt out of being tracked. At a bare minimum, some devices need location data to legally operate.

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