Yesterday Apple was caught red handed and now the company has admitted that the settings in millions of iPhones are misleading users about their use of location data, and promised to fix it.
Update 12/7 – 9to5Mac has confirmed through carriers that iOS 13.3 will be released next week. It is expected to bring Apple’s promised fix for this problem as well as support for FIDO2 security keys and new parental controls for limiting Phone, Message and FaceTime usage based on contact and time.
Update 12/10 – Apple has officially launched iOS 13.3. Unfortunately the fix is not mentioned the release notes or on the release’s official security page. I have asked Apple to respond. But it looks like the wait goes on.
In response, Apple initially dismissed the finding (which Krebs documented in a video, embedded below) as “expected behavior”. But today the company has changed its tune, warning users that the range’s new Ultra wideband chip is behind the background checks:
“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,” said Apple in its statement. “iOS uses Location Services to help determine if an iPhone is in these prohibited locations in order to disable ultra wideband and comply with regulations.”
Apple states that “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.” Something that initial research backs up.
What will raise eyebrows, however, is Apple’s next course of action. Having claimed it had to follow international regulatory requirements, the company now says it will enable these background location checks to be disabled in an upcoming iOS update. Which means they didn’t need to be done in the first place.
Although anonymised, a whistleblower revealed they heard clips which included private medical information, drug deals and recordings of couples having sex. Apple subsequently apologised, shut down the centre and promised to give users a privacy setting which would enable them to delete their Siri recordings in a future iOS update. That duly arrived in the form of iOS 13.2.
Personally speaking, I think there are enough differences between these new background location checks and the Siri recordings that users should be less concerned this time around. That said, when the company’s own Privacy Page states “At Apple, we believe privacy is a fundamental human right” – it set itself a high bar. And, along with transparency, it is one the company has fallen below again.
More On Forbes
I am an experienced freelance technology journalist. I have written for Wired, The Next Web, TrustedReviews, The Guardian and the BBC in addition to Forbes. I began in b2b print journalism covering tech companies at the height of the dot com boom and switched to covering consumer technology as the iPod began to take off. A career highlight for me was being a founding member of TrustedReviews. It started in 2003 and we were repeatedly told websites could not compete with print! Within four years we were purchased by IPC Media (Time Warner’s publishing division) to become its flagship tech title. What fascinates me are the machinations of technology’s biggest companies. Got a pitch, tip or leak? Contact me on my professional Facebook page. I don’t bite.