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On Tuesday, Brian Krebs, security expect for KrebOnSecurity, revealed that the iPhone 11 continues collecting location data even when the location tracking toggle is switched off for all apps. Apple responded, explaining that this was by design and not a glitch in the software.
"We do not see any actual security implications," said an Apple engineer. "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."
On Thursday, Apple followed up to clarify the issue telling TechCrunch that the location tracking going on in the background is part of the iPhone 11's ultra-wideband technology and that it is there to comply with international regulatory requirements.
"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."
Guardian Firewall's CEO Will Strafach, who is an expert on iOS security, confirmed that he found no reason to believe the background location checks are being shared outside the device.
FWIW, tried to dig into this and replicate.— Will Strafach (@chronic) December 5, 2019
it is very likely that it is something locally which does not have an exposed switch, no evidence of data sent to remote servers.
begs the question: why does Apple not answer for this directly? https://t.co/5Ht2hA30CR
The technology is part of the iPhone 11's U1 chip. This hardware allows users' devices to communicate locally without having to rely on cell towers or satellites. For example, if you wanted to share a file with someone in the room using AirDrop, you would only have to point your device at theirs, then select it on the screen. We may even see it used to power the rumored Apple Tag, which reportedly works like Tile or Trackr fobs.
This chip is also what is doing behind-the-scenes location tracking. It can reportedly be disabled by turning off the master switch in settings rather than just individual apps, but that means users would not be able to use trusted apps like Maps accurately.
Apple said that it would be adding a dedicated toggle to turn off the U1's tracking in a future update, but this leaves the question: What about these "international regulatory requirements" that the spokesperson mentioned?
Image credit: Denys Prykhodov via Shutterstock