Want to know where and how often an app on your iPhone is tracking where you are? Apple’s latest version of iOS promises to let you see for yourself.
iOS 13 (still in beta) introduces a welcome element of transparency concerning location data and permissions. When an app has been accessing your location in the background, Apple will send you a periodic alert in the form of a map detailing all the places where your location has been checked. This is in addition to improved controls over the circumstances under which apps are permitted to track your location.
Here’s a closer look at the changes…
Self-encrypting solid state drives: what are we talking about?
Back in April, we looked at some of the new security features that look set to be included as part of Android’s next refresh, Android Q. This included the ability to get more granular with location access. With iOS 13, it seems that Apple has taken a leaf out of Google’s book.
Currently, Apple gives you three options for granting permission to apps to access your iPhone or iPad’s location: “always”, “never” or “while using”. iOS 13 adds a further option here, “just once”.
This recognises that you perhaps might want an app to know your whereabouts at the time of download (e.g. in order for it to be configured for optimal performance). However, you don’t necessarily want that app to continue to track your location on an ongoing basis. This temporary authorisation is a handy way of covering this type of situation.
Why the map?
The first time an app attempts to access your location, you will get a prompt asking if you want to grant access. If that permission is granted, the location data gathered by the app will be available on your device in report form.
You can see here how the location access map will work - and it’s basically a visual representation of what the app has been up to! For any app tracking you while running in the background, a dialog box will periodically open and you will be shown where your location data has been captured. You will also be asked if you want to continue granting permission.
This feature seems designed to get users to think a little deeper about location access permissions. After all, a dry text-only permission reminder is easy to dismiss. But if you can actually see where and how often that data has been captured, you are probably more likely to question whether it’s something you are comfortable with.
Why is location access a hot topic?
Just before Apple’s Developer Conference, it came out that a lot of big names apps (the likes of Microsoft OneDrive, Spotify and Yelp), were tracking information, and in some cases, sharing personally identifiable information, without permission. In light of these revelations, Apple’s strapline “What happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone”, was looking decidedly shaky.
The “just once” permission option seems to be a means of preventing the leak of location data. Likewise, some apps never request location data - but nonetheless can use Bluetooth to get a pretty good idea of where you are. With iOS 13, you will now get a prompt to grant access to Bluetooth functionality the first time an app is opened.
IOS 13: When can I get it?
The latest version of Apple’s iOS operating system was unveiled in June at the 2019 Worldwide Developers Conference. It is set for general public roll-out this Autumn. You can, however, access the latest beta versions by enrolling on Apple’s Developer Program.
iOS 13 represents a significant operating system overhaul, including some interesting features surrounding security and privacy. These include a systemwide Dark Mode option, a “Find My” tool that lets you track your devices even when they are offline, and a Sign In with Apple feature, which allows you to authenticate your account via Touch ID or Face ID, without having to disclose your ID details to third-party app developers.
Of course, if you are tempted to download a beta version for general usage, the usual caveats apply. Bugs, missing features, an absence of support for certain apps and battery drain: these are all potential occupational hazards of using an OS test version on your primary device - so just proceed with caution.