iPhone Update Reminds Users -- Again and Again -- of Being Tracked

Date : 12/31/2019 @ 2:05PM
Source : Dow Jones News
Stock : Apple Inc (AAPL)
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iPhone Update Reminds Users -- Again and Again -- of Being Tracked

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By Patience Haggin 

"' Facebook' has used your location 107 times in the background over the past 3 days. Do you want to continue to allow background location use?"

Such pop-up notifications are frequent for many iPhone users who have downloaded Apple Inc.'s iOS 13. They arrive every few days for each app that tracks location while not in use and includes maps.

Apple touted the new notifications as a way to make users more mindful of how much tracking goes on even when they aren't using their phones. Each notification gives users the option to let the app use their location data only when it is in use or if they agree for the app to track their locations at all times.

Since iOS 13 was released in September, tens of millions of people have moved to block apps' ability to track their locations when not in use, according to an estimate from Location Sciences, a company that verifies mobile location data.

Some app developers, particularly the ones whose business models rely on being able to access users' locations at all times, are concerned that the iOS 13 notifications will hurt their apps' adoption. Seven of them signed an email to Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook addressing these concerns in August.

The signatories included Life360 Inc., an app that lets family members track one another's location and can summon an ambulance immediately in the event of an auto accident, and Tile Inc., a maker of tracking devices for items like wallets and keys.

Both Life360 and Tile rely on constantly tracking all their users and compete with Find My, a preinstalled Apple app that helps users locate a lost iPhone -- and isn't subject to the same restrictions.

"We genuinely believe that Apple has the user's best interest at heart, and we appreciate that they listened to us when we raised these issues," said Chris Hulls, co-founder and chief executive of Life360. "We believe that sometimes there are just unanticipated consequences of the actions they take."

Tile declined to comment.

Apple said it builds its hardware, software and apps to protect user privacy. "Apple has not built a business model around knowing a customer's location or the location of their device," a spokeswoman said.

Some iPhone users have expressed frustration that choosing "Always Allow" on Apple's pop-up notifications doesn't do anything to stop the prompts. Reminders still come every few days.

"When I say 'Always Allow,' I don't mean 'always allow until the next time you ask me,' " said Cory Therriault, a 32-year-old in Gothenburg, Sweden, who authorized apps such as Google Maps flight-planning app ForeFlight to access his location at all times. "It's a little silly that it would ask you repeatedly whether you want something to be always allowed. Why do they think I'm changing my mind?"

Apple's iOS 13 location-tracking changes have hit the supply of mobile location data available for advertising and analytics, said Jason Smith, chief business officer of Location Sciences. He said the amount of location data gathered by apps while not in use had dropped by 70% since iOS 13 was released.

Bharad Ramesh, managing director for digital activation at Omnicom Group Inc.-owned ad agency PHD Media, said that even if users decide to stop sharing their location at all times with some apps, they are likely to continue to do so with others. Consequently, that user's location data will still be available for targeting by ads.

Foursquare Labs Inc. said it was too early to share reliable metrics on how many users of its local-recommendations app -- or of the third-party apps that use Foursquare's location-tracking technology -- had limited the use of their locations.

A Foursquare spokeswoman called the reminders "a step in the right direction."

Benoit Grouchko, chief executive of Teemo Inc., a French startup that makes software for apps to collect location data, said users are still sharing their locations for navigating roads or tracking a jogger's path.

Fitness-tracker maker Fitbit Inc. declined to provide data or comment on whether users of its apps have restricted the use of their locations since the iOS 13 release. Alphabet Inc.'s Google announced a deal in November to purchase Fitbit for $2.1 billion.

A spokesman for Google declined to provide data or comment on whether users of its apps, including Google Maps, have restricted the use of their locations since the iOS 13 release.

Facebook didn't respond to requests for comment. The company published a blog post in September explaining how its apps use locations under each setting provided by iOS 13.

Write to Patience Haggin at patience.haggin@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

December 31, 2019 08:50 ET (13:50 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2019 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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