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[flagged] iOS’s Significant Locations list tracks every location visited (onezero.medium.com)
44 points by ilarum 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 28 comments

This is very old news. Apple has explained why they collate this data, how it is used and the tight security surrounding it. And they make it simple to switch off. The article stupidly implied that the setting is buried—no, not having any interface at all is burying it. Apple was under no obligation to surface this data in the UI, let alone with the clarity and detail in which they did.

If you're a privacy paranoid—well you shouldn't have a smartphone at all—but if you have an iPhone, at the very least I'd expect you to comprehensively circumnavigate the privacy section in Settings. It's all quite clearly organised and labelled. If you're serious about your privacy and you didn't do that, you're not very good at being a privacy paranoid.


The author writes well, seemingly to build up suspense and the audience's rage "News at 11!!"-style, and I can't stand it.

Oh well, it will either fizzle or become the next thing people will actually rage about.

Appreciate the nice words re: my writing! I completely hear you regarding the tone of the piece. In retrospect, I would've probably made more of an effort to downplay any alarmism and instead focus on a simple how-to for friends and family who weren't aware of (and frankly were quite concerned by) this level of tracking, irregardless of whether the information is shared externally. Anyways, thanks again for your comment and I didn't mean for this piece to be some sort of Apple takedown. I also should've noted that it really was meant more for a non-tech, non-privacy savvy audience. Completely understand that the folks in this thread probably are in the top percentiles of being cognizant of their privacy settings, etc.

If you are privacy paranoid an iPhone is the only phone I would trust these days.

You can disable essentially all data collection, the hardware encryption on the device is the only one I trust, their business model so far does not revolve around you being the product but rather a consumer and you get years of guaranteed security updates.

Everyone has known about this for quite some time.

The information doesn’t leave your phone and isn’t accessible by other applications.

As a clueless person who knows nothing about iOS (besides being a user) and has heard many an iOS developer make similar statements, I've always wondered how people are so sure about this or that data not leaving iOS devices. How is this guaranteed? Is some of the software open source?

Ultimately it's trust. All systems like this rely on trust at some level. Even if you're rocking a fully open-source mobile OS, have you read and understood every line? Can you trust your source of software patches/updates? Can you trust your chipset? Can you trust the baseband? Can you trust your telco?

I'm not saying trust Apple, but it's difficult to list many other large companies I'd trust more.

And at least with an iPhone I only have to trust Apple. They make the vast bulk of the product and for all the stuff they don't do, I'm confident that they're doing good due diligence on their upstream suppliers. They'll be checking that TSMC has manufactured their chips without changes. They'll know every trivial detail about the supply chain into the Foxconn factories. They know the entirety of the product they're selling better than any other phone maker, unquestionably.

Buy a Samsung Galaxy and then you have to trust at least Samsung and Google. But I don't necessarily trust them to do due diligence on upstream suppliers, so I suppose you have to add Qualcomm to that list. And if your phone has been shipped with third party software, you have to add all of those third party software companies...

It's trust, with aligned incentives.

Apple currently doesn't have any method of making money off this information that we know about, and has a lot of goodwill for protecting people's privacy.[0] In contrast, companies like Google and Amazon have well established ways of making money off similar information, and less than stellar reputations. So they'll constantly have a balancing act of "how creepy can we be?" They're trading off marginal losses (the occasional quitter) vs revenue.

Apple is the guy who doesn't drink. Google, Amazon and Facebook are the ones at the bar saying "I can probably handle one more".

[0] To be clear, I'm sure they could ink a deal to make money from this info very quickly. It's just that they don't have anything outstanding.

They could ink a deal to make money from our data, but I'm sufficiently confident they stand to lose more by doing so than they could possibly gain.

Yes, I agree.

At a minimum, I think it would be a big business model change. If they just exploited this particular bit of information, it would be a small financial gain with a big loss of trust. To make it worthwhile, they'd have to find ways to monetize tons of user data, at the expense of a lot of trust.

It'd be interesting to know how much they would lose if they did. There aren't a whole lot of alternatives. Some people currently on iOS would definitely buy Android if they were convinced Apple and Google were equivalent when it comes to selling their data. But how many?

Apple isn't perfect, but the alternatives are varying degrees of worse.

Because you can tell from many of their products e.g. Siri, iAds, Apple News that they don’t sell their data to third parties.

It’s been a major complaint from advertisers and media organisations that Apple doesn’t share data with them that Google et al do.

>You are finally presented with a minute-by-minute list of your commutes to and from your home and your method of transportation.

I checked mine and it was surprisingly spotty. Of the places I go to daily, it only had records 50-66% of the time.

Me too. It's only got 59 "visits" to my home. Even if we only count the life of this iPhone, which I've had for 18 months, that's 10% at best.

My Significant Locations list has always been set to off and I usually advise privacy concious people to switch it off. With a new iPhone it's always a good idea to go through all the settings and make sure it's all setup the way you like it.

The main problem nowadays is that defaults are unsafe. You have to explicitly go through all the settings and make sure there's nothing nefarious going on.

If you believe this is nefarious... Why would you think turning it off was going to help?

And to show that isn't just paranoia:

"When you turn off “location history” Google still tracks your location when you use several of its key services including Maps, search and the weather. Here’s how to really turn all of it off..."[0]


The operative word being ‘Google’.


Maybe it’s the template keybase uses to verify ownership of your hn account?

I don't know how he gets to 7 layers

1 System Preferences

2 Privacy

3 Location Services

4 System Services

5 Significant Locations

I could maybe see the argument for putting System services on the Location Services page in a separate section, but that's the only layer I'd remove if I were being parsimonious.

6 Hometown 7 Your actual "home" location

It's a reach, but if I was trying to inflate the "layers" count that's how I'd do it.

I'm a big fan of making this transparent, but "every location visited" is inaccurate clickbait. The article would be more useful if it explored how the selection of locations was performed.

Similarly you can get your location history from Google (even if you use an iPhone).


So... how else would that even work?

Quick PSA here: I wrote this mainly for a non-technical audience (friends + family) who was very unaware of this level of specific tracking. I completely agree with and acknowledge that for those who are more tech/privacy-savvy this is probably not as revelatory as the headline may suggest. But if it's a quick reminder of being cognizant of our privacy settings and sparks a mild discussion, then hopefully that can benefit some users. Not meant to be some takedown piece by any means.

Anyone who uses Apple Maps occassionally knows that "Significant Locations" have been there forever.

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