iPhone’s new software quietly records MORE location data than EVER before

Giuseppe Macri Tech Editor
Font Size:

With all the hype surrounding Apple’s highly anticipated software update last fall, a few major privacy features got lost in the media buzz — including a location feature that records nearly every place you go.

The release of iOS 7 last September dramatically altered the look and feel of the iPhone operating system, making it the perfect opportunity for Apple to bury new location-data recording features deep in the software’s settings.

Most iPhone users are familiar with “Location Services,” which lets users control which apps can use real-time GPS location data. Users have always had the option of picking and choosing which apps use location services, or turning the option off entirely.

New to iOS 7 is a feature called “Frequent Locations,” which is a combination of several Location Services advancements and selectable options buried deep in “Settings.” Frequent Locations actually records a running log of locations you’ve visited, which have been tracked and recorded by another app you’ve allowed to use Location Services.

Apple includes warning indicators which pop up as a “Status Bar Icon” when various types of location data are being recorded or transmitted, but has the option set by default to “Off” in the update.

If you’re like me and you’re privacy concerns outweigh your desire for location-ready conveniences you may or may not use, turning off Location Services is a given — especially after the recently revealed NSA program that accumulates a surprising amount of private data from “leaky” apps.

Turning off Location Services certainly isn’t full-proof data privacy, but it’s undeniably helpful with the benefit of saving battery power. I do however enable the feature on rare occasions to do things like look up directions or buy a cup of coffee. Even in these few instances, Frequent Locations recorded a very detailed running log of places I’d been without my knowledge, even after I’d turned Location Services off again.

To take control of your iPhone’s location data tracking, transmitting and warning, go to Settings and select Privacy. From there select Location Services and scroll all the way to the bottom of your list of apps and select “System Services.”

At the bottom will be an explanation of the different location service icons Apple has not-so-conveniently automatically turned off for you. Turn the option next to Status Bar Icon to the green “On” position. Next, open the Frequent Locations option above the Status Bar Icon explanations.

At the bottom will be the active log of visited locations recorded by Frequent Locations, which you can manually clear by selecting the option to do so. After that, you can turn Frequent Locations off entirely by selecting the white “Off” position.

Turning off Frequent Locations won’t disable Location Services – you’ll still have to toggle it on and off in Privacy, but it will prevent the feature from tracking and making a list of the places you visit, and transmitting the list outside your phone, when you do enable Location Services.

Follow Giuseppe on Twitter