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iOS 13 app tracking alert has dramatically cut location data flow to ad industry (appleinsider.com)
781 points by clairity 9 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 451 comments

> A drop in advertiser spending is likely to occur from small or medium-sized advertisers, Kasamias believes, as they are clients "where cost efficiency is paramount and there is a physical footprint, as targeting the right user at the right time will become more difficult."

Frankly, what a load of horse shit.

The reason for the drop in spend isn't the lack of targeting potential. Ad companies talk about this, because it sounds less creepy than what's really going on. What marketing departments in companies want from location data, is the ability to attribute sales to campaigns. They carpet bomb everyone they can with ads, and then if someone coincidentally even brushes past a store on their commute, they claim that the customer visited a store.

It's absolute arcane crap. They have no incentive to make targeting better if tracking is pervasive, because they can wildly gesticulate at one datapoint that slimily suggests the customer was effected by the ad. Losing location tracking data reduces the effectiveness of attribution, for huge enterprises, who target everyone.

ed: I wrote a little blog about this in June - https://lockwood.dev/advertising/2019/06/07/adtech-sucks.htm...

Interesting idea.

I have noticed that after I buy something I start seeing ads for the exact item, which I have never seen before. These aren’t things you buy more than once.

I always thought it was pretty dumb if you are serving ads for something someone just bought... but maybe they do it because some small % of people will click on it and they can claim the ad was associated with the sale in some hand-wavy way. Or maybe people are just more likely to click on these post-sale ads, and that’s all that matters.

I think you're right.

This is a function of Marketing departments wanting to create large audiences. Large audiences mean more chance to attribute a sale, and also more impressive sounding campaigns.

The technical and time cost of implementing something that removes people who have made purchases from the audience (probably 0.001% of an audience) is much higher than simply adding someone who visited your website (lets say 5% of the audience) to the audience. If your product is reasonably ok, your largest group of customers is often your previous customers, so attributing the ads those previous customers see to their next purchase is logical for marketers.

Thanks for the blog post, for the thoughts yes, but also for teaching me the word “spruik”!

PS I hope you’ve found or are finding a new and rewarding area to work in.

Same here. I'm in a similar situation to yours when you published that post. Curious to see what did you do next.

Thanks for your kind words :)

I shifted my career into web dev, and got a bit more picky with the companies I applied to work for. I feel much better about my work now. You'll find something!!!

How do they not have incentive?

If ad tech company X is more effective than Y at generating sales, eventually the money will shift away from Y.

Ad Tech company X needs to only appear more effective than Y. Location data enables increased attribution, making X appear more effective. X may or may not have done anything that had a greater impact on the targets.

My favorite thing about these features is the number of apps that it’s reminded me to uninstall completely from my devices. The number of apps that I initially installed months ago that didn’t have any of this that suddenly developed tracking notifications is staggering. I never would have known either since the updates happen silently in the background.

Great features.


Yeah, I have a number of apps I installed for one-time operations (a number of obscure dev apps come to mind), and I find out that they are still hanging around, like my drunken Uncle Bob, hovering around the keg.

I love this feature.

I regularly go through and turn off location tracking on almost all of my apps (or at least turn them to 'while using'). But sometimes I'll have to turn them back to permanent for a specific reason (e.g. sharing my location with someone while I'm coordinating with them). This feature reminds me to turn it back off.

But I also potentially see the need for a feature which allows always-on access for a limited period of time.

where are you seeing the notifications ? I installed the update and just clicked "use location only while using app" for everything

They'll usually pop up unexpectedly and say something like "Data Leaking App has used your location while running in the background 3 times in the last 24 hours. Do you want to continue allowing this?" and it'll give me a prompt to disable location services for that app completely, allow while the app is in the background, while it's in focus, or allow always. Depending on what permissions the app actually needs, the prompt is slightly different each time.

It's a new feature due to the more fine-grained permissions that are allowed now on iOS. It prevents apps that you may have previously allowed location access to (when it was just binary) from adding all these new "features" to use your location in ways that weren't disclosed that way initially.

interesting - i have not seen that yet, but maybe i dont have apps doing that. i dont have uber on my phone but I have lyft, Im surprised I have not seen it from them.

I don't know if you'll get them at all for apps where you said "only while using". They're intended for apps that use your location in the background. The OS just prompts you at some point to make sure you want to keep giving the app access to your location while in the background.

They just magically start appearing after a while

And once they start they don't stop again, which is also kinda annoying. I wish there was some way to permanently allow it, and not be bugged by the alerts again. Something the app cannot set by itself, but i can set.

I have some apps, i.e. Unifi Protect, that requires access to background location to send activity alerts when nobody is home, and i frequently get alerts that this app has used my location in the background, and despite selecting "allow always" it will pop up again in a couple of weeks.

To further add insult to injury, i appear to have "trained" my wife so well that she defaults to selecting "deny" for apps she doesn't use, and "only when in use" to everything else, which then results in a flurry of motion alerts :)

I have a feeling that's a bug. I have an app that I want to have background location and was asked twice soon after upgrading to iOS 13, then iOS was silent for about a month, then started popping up a prompt for it 2 or 3 times a day for half a week. After restarting it stopped popping up again, so it seems likely that something was broken about saving whether it had prompted for that app.

You get the popups until you accidentally block the app. Since the probability for blocking accidentally is greater than zero, over time all such apps get blocked.

This might hurt for example Tile. I think their “network effect” is somewhat depending on this kind of background location tracking.

And it’s not just location data. I am amazed at how many apps want Bluetooth, too. Umm, there isn’t a single listed feature that indicates a need for BT, why are you asking? Oh, so you can use that as a tracking vector, too. Well, not only do you not get BT, you don’t get to live on my phone anymore, either.

As for the advertisers, boo-hoo. You raised a finger (or two, depending on locale) to “do not track”, you think there wasn’t a hammer that was going to fall after you were asked politely?

I'm pretty sure that the reason for this is dependencies.

People don't just write apps anymore. They write CocoaPods frameworks.

I was just looking at something that someone wrote that does basically the same thing as one of my open-source utilities.

The one I wrote is a 300-line file. It's so small that it isn't even worth writing a pod for it.

The more popular one has over a dozen source files, and also brings in two dependencies.

One of the reasons, I'm sure, is that they are an "all things to all men" approach. They do a lot.

Welcome to the Roaring Twenties...

Are you aware of any common libraries which aren’t ad packages but do ask for Bluetooth or Location Services by default? I’ve had a handful of apps which legitimately need to talk to devices but all of the inexplicable ones were clearly using ads and had privacy policies a mile long before I deleted them.

No. I tend to avoid dependencies. When I do use them, I'm very careful, and I don't use CocoaPods for release software (only for development utilities, like SwiftLint). I use Carthage (or even -ick- submodules) for the rare dependencies that make it into my shipping software.

I'm told that Bluetooth is used for location tracking. I suspect that advertisers also like to use it.

I write Bluetooth software. You need to jump through a couple of hoops to make it work. Not a big deal.

Good thought that I hadn’t considered, but should have. Because when Apple did their big crackdown on private APIs, one of my apps got flagged. Yup, framework I was using.

Good lesson to learn: know your dependencies. Before you pull in some third party library that you think is going to be an awesome time saver, dig in to it a little and figure out what it’s actually doing. Too many Kitchen Sink third party SDKs out there.

A lot of apps ask for Bluetooth because Google Chromecast wanted it. I think Google put out a Chromecast framework update to fix this, though I'm not positive.

You can pick a version of the SDK without "Guest mode" support that will not use Bluetooth.

I'm pretty sure before iOS 13 came out there was no option to remove bluetooth. So any apps that haven't updated to the newer SDK will still be requesting bluetooth access.

Yeah, something like that. The change was made in response to iOS 13.

> As for the advertisers, boo-hoo. You raised a finger (or two, depending on locale) to “do not track”, you think there wasn’t a hammer that was going to fall after you were asked politely?

I wish it was that easy, but the current changes will generate a push towards non-deterministic, data driven ways of targeting, i.e. replacing the "precise" inputs such as GPS, trackingID, etc... with a set of more fuzzy parameters: geo IP, UA, fingerprinting.

Some good things are happening, but there's so much more to do. I like the WebKit approach the most:

we don't care how you target users cross-site, what tech is involved, if you track cross-site, we will treat it as exposing a security vulnerability—we'll escalate the issue and potentially include measures to prevent your domain accessing the browser.

The approach above sounds more future-proof, imo

There's an excellent white paper and mitigation proposal from the 2017 PrivacyCon on cross-app tracking via Bluetooth LE, here's the link for any interested; https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/public_comments/2...

Would the situation be different if Apple's biggest rival wasn't basically an advertising and data mining company?

I wouldn't put it below Apple to profit from advertising control if Google didn't have an iron grip on it.

And if a frog had wings it wouldn’t bump its ass when it hops. But in our world of ass-bumping frogs, that is our current situation. Beyond that, we’re guessing at motives from Column A, and hypotheticals from Column B.

Heh! :D I never heard frog/wings phrase before, made me laugh.

This frog probably did though, saw bit on tv last week, and thanks to the old data miner (google searched it).


I prematurely agree, it's not real wings, but bumps its ass a lot less compared to other frogs.

Isn't that good? Now their goals naturally align with ours. That means these ideals will outlast CEOs (at least until one of the CEOs decides Google doesn't matter any more...)

Considering Apple is a hardware company first, probably they would do the same thing. They wouldn’t rely on ads even if Google didn’t exist, therefore they wouldn't have to worry about the poor ad companies losing revenue.

On the other hand Apple has forced apps to use location data for purposes it should not be used for. Termius, for example, is my favorite iOS SSH app. But according to them, they can’t keep an SSH session running in the background unless they’re constantly tracking your location data. And somehow Apple approved this usage of location data.

I don’t want to give Termius my location. I don’t want them tracking me everywhere I go. But apparently that’s the only way they can keep my SSH session alive when I need to switch to Safari for a few minutes?

Absent memory pressure, apps can stay open for up to 10 minutes in the background.

The correct solution here is for the app to request background processing and to schedule a local notification in 9 minutes saying that the app is about to run out of background time and pause (and then clean up the notification if the user returns to the app before it fires). This means you're not abusing anything, and it lets the user return before the connection is killed in order to keep it alive.

This also means if the user never returns, the app will naturally shut down the connection after 10 minutes instead of keeping it open indefinitely.

Are you sure about that? Especially in iOS 13, killing apps seems to have gotten a bit more agressive.

Yeah on iOS 13 I get Safari tabs reloading if I toggle between them. Just switching to one tab and back to the other will sometimes completely reload the page.

iPadOS was such a major leap forward for the iPad and there's not many features left I need to use it as a laptop replacement... but the aggressive app and tab killing ruins everything. I've never said this about iOS devices before, but it's time to start putting more RAM in these machines.

Under normal usage, iOS will kill apps a lot earlier than 10 minutes. In the general case it's really not possible to do this, and I would argue that shipping with a flaky feature is probably worse than not shipping with it at all.

I haven't checked in a while but in the past it was fairly reliably 10 minutes.

In any case, there's a property `UIApplication.backgroundTimeRemaining` that tells you how long you have, so you can use that to calculate the appropriate notification time.

I thought it was 3 minutes? Or is it 3 guaranteed, 10 maximum?

And yes, the app in question of course does exactly that notification dance (I've used it since long before it got its current name). GP is talking about a new feature to keep sessions open in bg for a loong time. I've disabled it, not for fear of tracking but because it seems like a silly way to forget connections open and drain the battery for no reason.

App has indeed also always supported mosh... me I just attach to tmux. But I agree with whoever wrote it's better to have such a bg hack feature than not, for those who find it useful.

One of the biggest complaints people have with ios13 right now is RAM management. It quickly kills off apps.

Or instead of using a hack that intermittently fails, you could use a platform that lets the app function correctly. The app can pester the user about if they want to keep the connection open only if the user specifically wants that.

Termius works perfectly on Android without requesting my location.

Hint: if Apple allowed apps to run indefinitely in the background, it would be less than a month before almost every app "needs to run in the background", for user-unfriendly reasons. And battery life would drop to a couple of hours.

This is why I'm an Apple user. Hate regarding Apple's policies like "use a platform that lets the app function correctly" (ie. drain battery running in background just to do more tracking, or because every developer assumes THEIR app is so special that it must never be unloaded from memory, in order to open instantly when being swapped back to... weeks after user's last interaction). With hilarious frequency, the complaints people have about Apple are precisely the reasons I prefer their products.

> Hint: if Apple allowed apps to run indefinitely in the background, it would be less than a month before almost every app "needs to run in the background", for user-unfriendly reasons. And battery life would drop to a couple of hours.

This doesn't happen on Android. The reason it doesn't is that the app has to display a persistent notification if it wants to run with high priority in the background. This is why I'm an Android user. It lets the user do what they need to do and prevents apps from being abusive.

Every excuse for Apple's platforms failings that I have seen so far has a better solution on Android that the Apple apologist has not heard of.

Main problem facing any app that needs to run in the background is that Apple only allows it for certain use cases - VoIP, audio/airplay, location and BLE being the main ones. That's why since iOS 13 users have been seeing alerts that apps with no reason to need Bluetooth are requesting it.

So I deny most apps use of this, as it's clearly just a ploy to keep their app running when it shouldn't be. Something like the Termius app you cite has a legitimate reason to run in the background though and has to ask for one of those permissions.

It's a weird grey area IMO. I'm sure if you asked the Termius developers they may tell you that they don't even use the location data and that it's just a mechanism to keep the app running. However, the fact that we as users don't know this for sure is a problem that Apple could fix by adding a specific background permission alert.

the real fix here is to move off ssh onto a mosh server, as it's specifically designed to fix this use-case without requiring a persistent connection


Mosh has a number of issues, though. IIRC it doesn't do scrollback, and being "non-standard" it can be problematic to set up.

Mosh has a lot of issues. Most notably it lacks flow control [1] and does not handle packet loss or truncation [2].

Very sad, because the idea behind Mosh is great.

1: https://github.com/mobile-shell/mosh/issues/957

2: https://github.com/mobile-shell/mosh/issues/950

been using mosh with various shitty networks around europe and it always felt better than plain ssh.

1. seems a egde case, never hit me while beeing a customer there. (funny way telefonica does throttling)

2. seems a edge case caused by the users vpn.

The problem as I understand it isn’t the ssh connection being dropped but the app being closed and needing to reload. Because iOS devices don’t have enough RAM to keep an app in the background while also running Safari.

the application being closed and needing to reload at some future point effectively drops the connection from the client side

mosh solves this use-case because there is no need for the client to remain connected to persist. It's like a tmux/screen terminal running in detached mode. When the app loads back up, it picks up the mosh session again.

> Mosh maintains the terminal session (not "connection" in the TCP-sense because Mosh uses UDP) even when a user loses their Internet connection or puts their client to "sleep." In comparison, SSH can lose its connection in such cases because TCP times out.[5]

Safari, or any other app that needs the memory.

Humorous, but the curse of Android devices is that every single app demands a perpetual background service doing close to nothing. Of course we see the same thing on Windows and macOS where everyone thinks they need their own background daemons for the most absurdly simple task.

I definitely prefer the iOS model.

Of all the things to be controversial, this has to be the most surprising: Who knew that HN was so much in love with egregious and unnecessary background daemons.

99.9999% of the time the most that is necessary is an occasional scheduled task. No, your picture of cats app doesn't need to run a busy loop pinging a server. Learn how to use the core messaging infrastructure of the platforms you target.

No, Chrome doesn't need to run a perpetual service just to check for updates.

These are not controversial claims.

I don’t see why it can’t be requested like any other permission. Otherwise apps just abuse location and audio to make it work anyway. It’s not like apps AREN’T working in the background.

There are extraordinarily few cases where apps on iOS need to run in the background, beyond what can be accomplished via a periodic scheduled task or the system eventing infrastructure. And the notion paraded here that every app is secretly doing it by pretending that it's playing audio is nonsense that has little correlation with reality.

Android very recently -- at API level 26 -- added restrictions on background tasks for that platform (and it's much more involved than if you display a notification or not). Before that every app developer just spun up a background service for everything, and anyone who has done an iota of development on Android devices saw the tragedy of the commons that the platform became. So kudos to Google for cleaning it up a bit. Of course Samsung, Google and others just declare themselves immune from those restrictions and it's just a smaller problem, not a solved problem.

That's indeed how it works on Android. If you want to have a high priority background task that isn't among the first to get killed when another app needs more memory, you have to tell the OS to show a notification that is displayed until the user shuts down the service.

Hey, that's cool.

I was not aware of Mosh.

iOS really needs a channel for legitimate, real background apps. A lot of its battery life and security advantages over Android come from the fact that it doesn't allow a wild-west of background processes, but there are certain cases where you really do just need that.

Apple is good at taking use-cases and creating cohesive stories around the right way to serve them; this one has been long-coming.

Agreed. Camera upload to DropBox is one situation I've run into. Currently it seems like it's using some janky set up where each time I change location it triggers an event to look for new photos to upload but this results in Apple notifying me of DropBox looking up my location X amount of times in the last few days.

Yeah, I think I declined that option so instead every time I open the Dropbox app, I get a notification 5 minutes later saying uploads were paused. It's exhausting.

Apple does have a small number of very specific use cases carved out where they allow apps to run in the background, like VOIP apps and audio players. But “I just want to run in the background to do stuff” has never been a legitimate use case in their view.

I honestly don’t know how you manage this with a normal user/consumer without a flood of “my battery life is gone” complaints.

Even with opt-In messaging how many people just click “ok” thinking the app needs it.

They could do it the same way they did it with background location (what this whole article is about) - keep pestering the user "this app has used 15% of your battery in the background, disable background processing for it?". Only the most die-hard IRC users will keep allowing it.

Apple's effective policy is that any long-running service should be mediated via a remote server. This affects not just SSH but every other protocol that relies on long-lived TCP connections such as IRC and XMPP. Not only can you no longer maintain the connection - you also need an out-of-band way to provide notifications via APNS. Together these requirements have hugely damaged traditional or federated protocols. Nowadays XMPP has extensions to handle this situation but the damage is done.

Meanwhile Matrix gets by because they have a company with actual money subsidising the client app (Riot) and providing notifications for every user, no matter which homeserver they happen to be using. Without that benevolence provided for iOS, Matrix could well be another non-starter outside FOSS circles.

> Meanwhile Matrix gets by because they have a company with actual money subsidising the client app (Riot) and providing notifications for every user, no matter which homeserver they happen to be using. Without that benevolence provided for iOS, Matrix could well be another non-starter outside FOSS circles.

So, I'm reading this that regardless of using a separate 'homeserver', Matrix receives all traffic/notifications?

Anyone know of a good open source alternative to the Termius input on iOS?

I loved Termius but didnt realize that keys were uploaded to their servers until I opened it on my laptop and saw it download all my keys.

Spent the day rotating all my keys.

I’m a huge fan of Blink Shell. App Store version is pricey but worth every cent. Or you can build from source.

You sure it's not just putting them on iCloud Keychain?

I use a Thinkpad :(

Yea, it's just one of those things that I rather inspect, I didn't need syncing, I just needed a decent terminal app on iOS.

Wait, if you don't want sync why would you pay them that much money every month specifically for that feature?

Just stop paying...

In all likelihood, Termius isn’t collecting your location at all and it’s never leaving the app. Test it, but I’d be willing to bet that their servers never see your geolocation.

We also had to do this to get enough background time. I can honestly say we don't track you. customers also get mad when the app intermittent stops doing its job.

I just hope the app review team doesn't throw us out again.

I just don’t understand why Apple doesn’t have a “allow to run in background” permission. Instead developers have to resort to Bluetooth or silent audio or location tracking which further erodes user trust and allows for developers to say “I swear we don’t track you” while actually tracking you.

Because developers would abuse it. Look at what Huawei does to force kill apps just to “fix” this

Prompt, another iOS SSH app, does the same thing. They even named the feature "connection keeper."

This is also how google photos works to upload photos in the background.

Apple needs to fix this.

Termius is lying. They could just as easily played silent audio in the background to keep the app from being suspended. Although in my opinion both practices should cause them to be rejected from the AppStore since they’re clearly misusing the APIs. Must be an oversight from the review team at Apple.

That option would mean the user couldn't listen to other audio in the background.

Apple’s reviewers try to distinguish between apps that legitimately need to play audio in the background and apps whose use cases have nothing to do with audio (or location) and are likely using the APIs to work around the rules.

>And somehow Apple approved this usage of location data.

On one hand I agree with you, that's crazy that your SSH program put that limit on there for clearly tracking purposes. But I guess I sort of disagree this is Apple's problem to solve. It's yours.

Apple made the changes to inform and educate you the customer that an app that is abusing your trust.

The solution is not to force Apple to police developers but for you to stop using Terminus. Call it a free market solution if you like.

The difference with real and ideal is that Terminus could absolutely find a "legitimate" use for location and it would scoot right by Apple review anyhow. So let them be upfront they're bad people being bad.

(Before it comes... I KNOW... Apple walled garden and how they do this a lot anyhow! But, as someone who has walled garden issues with Apple, we should encourage information and education over big brother protecting us. It might not be consistent for them, but I think it's the right move here)

The reason I called out Apple is because they normally take a strong stance on misuse of permissions. I’ve had my own apps rejected for the justification “I need location permissions so I know where you are” in a mapping app where the use case is obvious.

If Apple is playing hands on, they deserve just as much blame.

I don't disagree. They need to do have a consistent approach. Selective enforcement is not likely the thing here, it seems like sibling that this just got missed.

So, report to Apple, file a review, stop using it.

If Apple comes to the rescue and characteristically fixes it, great, if they don't - they've already made great steps in allowing you to make informed decisions.

Why stop using the app, let one report it, and not just turn the unwanted feature off?

And I think the app is covered since it's saying "enabling location data means you can plot on a map where you've connected to a host" or something like that in settings - good enough a bs feature for Apple to let it slide, evidently.

> Why stop using the app

Because they have clearly demonstrated they do not deserve your trust or support.

That's what I'm taking issue with. I don't like the feature, hence I don't use it. But why default to faulting them for adding a feature that's clearly useful enough for some to justify being hackily implemented?

As someone presumably technically capable wouldn't the first step be ensuring sync is off, routing through a pi or whatever and firing up Wireshark to check whether it's even possible that something malicious is going on? I'm not saying it's not - I have no idea. But I'd certainly have a look before making any claims.

>The solution is not to force Apple to police developers but for you to stop using Terminus.

The actual scalable solution is for Congress or states to pass GDPR-style privacy legislation (or CCPA if your politicians are captured by tech industry interests).

Maybe you're right and the solution is just add more laws.

No tech can fix the lack of laws regarding rights and privacy of citizens. At best, it just slows down the encroaching.

It's always laws.

The scalable solution is to stop using Apple products and use platforms that let you do what you want without resorting to silly hacks that might hide actual privacy violations.

The alert is annoying although for apps you want to have always on location tracking although, like some life logging apps. (Arc, etc)

It's like OS doesn't want to accept there are apps you want always on location tracking on and for it to stop annoying you about it.

This might be a necessary evil. If you could turn it off (even in a convoluted way), people would do it - which is what led to the issue of such a large proportion of Americans having their location data streamed 24/7 in the first place.

Unlike Windows 10 updates not giving people a choice in the matter, this only helps you, so I really don't see the problem here.

No, it does not "only help me". My attention is finite, and spurious warnings waste it. Constant unwanted nagging is paternalistic and disrespectful of the user's time.

I have several apps with always-on location permissions and I must have seen maybe half a dozen of these alerts since I installed iOS 13 back in the fall. It's nowhere near "constant unwanted nagging".

Yeah, I'm a little annoyed that there isn't an option for "no really, always allow". I understand that there's good privacy reasons to keep asking -- but I'm quite aware that a weather app will need access to my location, and I'm okay with that.

Except, most weather apps including the Weather Channel App sell your location data to hedge funds.

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/12/10/business/loca...

> The Weather Channel app, owned by an IBM subsidiary, told users that sharing their locations would let them get personalized local weather reports. IBM said the subsidiary, the Weather Company, discussed other uses in its privacy policy and in a separate “privacy settings” section of the app. Information on advertising was included there, but a part of the app called “location settings” made no mention of it.

> The app did not explicitly disclose that the company had also analyzed the data for hedge funds — a pilot program that was promoted on the company’s website. An IBM spokesman said the pilot had ended. (IBM updated the app’s privacy policy on Dec. 5, after queries from The Times, to say that it might share aggregated location data for commercial purposes such as analyzing foot traffic.)

There is an Always option. It just doesn’t show on the pop up. But if you go to settings -> privacy -> location services you see a list of apps, and if the app registers for always, it will have that option

But iOS still occasionally double-checks. Not frequently, but if you have enough apps that you allow to always track you, the notifications might add up enough to be annoying.

You can choose the weather location manually. I have a list of cities and default to the one I live in. There’s absolutely no reason for the weather app to know my location down to the square metre.

When you choose a weather location manually, you actually get a less fine-grained report than the one you get from a GPS-resolved location. Basically, you get weather for "the closest weather station to the geographic centre of the named city" rather than "the closest weather station to you."

This can be a big deal if your city has a large altitude range, such that going a few miles east means the difference between clouds vs. fog, or rain vs. snow; or if your city is coastal, such that going a few miles inland can mean rain vs. sun, and can make a dozen degrees' difference in temperature. (And, in some cities, you have both problems. Yay Vancouver!)

Coquitlam has a report. And the weather predictions are quantized to a certain cell size. And in coquitlam, why bother. It’s all just rain :P

Why not use a ZIP/postal code?

My ZIP code has a 4,000ft altitude change. Weather at the top is very different from the bottom.

you sir are a corner case.

In the case where you never go anywhere, how is that different from giving them your precise location? They very likely know enough other things about you to deanonymize a postal code into your actual address.

In the case where you do go places, the difference is that you get a weather report for where you are, rather than where you live. When I'm at my girlfriend's house, and I check the weather report, I want to know what the weather's going to be like tomorrow at my girlfriend's house, not at my house. And when I'm at the office and considering where to go for lunch, I want to know whether it's going to be raining at noon in the area of town around my office.

There’s two apps in germany that broadcast warnings of either dangerous weather conditions or other incidents (major fire or similar). I can configure both with a fixed location, but this is really a case where I want the app to geolocate me and warn me about dangers around where I am currently.

We get dangerous ones like tornado sent as part of Emergency broadcast. Snowfall warnings and thunderstorms warning are sent without geolocation as well.

Wonder if we’ll see a shift to legit location aware apps that then leak tracking data

Are a weather app’s ads more valuable now because it gets more users to track location

That's how it works in Android. Per app, you can set to Always allow location, Always deny location, or Allow only when app is in use.

I have to admit this annoyed me as well, they should change it to the notifications that just exist on your lock screen or as a banner.

It's started to frustrate me when I've just unlocked my phone to call or reply to someone and I get hit with a forced notification I must respond to about location tracking for an application that I absolutely do want location tracking set for.

In my experience, the OS prompts you less and less frequently if you keep approving it. I have one app I give background access for and at this point I'm getting maybe one prompt per month.

They just need a "don't ask me again about this app" option. I'm surprised they don't have that already.

This can be exploited by Shitbook and the likes. Messenger for example displays a fake notifications prompt with an arrow pointing to the "Allow" button and the only way to proceed is to tap the allow button, at which point they'll call the real OS-provided notifications prompt (which looks just like the fake one) and hope you also click allow on that one (of course the real one can be denied but unless you're tech-savvy you wouldn't even notice/understand what just happened or how a company could be so nasty to be pulling tricks like this).

Is there anything like Arc for android?

If you're running Android, I suggest you install one of the open source "firewall"s available on FDroid.

Even if you don't plan on using it, make yourself aware of the sheer number of requests being sent _constantly_ from not only your applications, but by Android system services themselves.

I'm not saying these requests are always related to ad tracking, but you can't argue there's a lot of information constantly being sent back an forth.

Pro-tip: Your battery life will possibly double running a software firewall on Android...

Any app you've got in mind? The only one on https://search.f-droid.org/?q=firewall doesn't seem to be of interest for that purpose.

Over the years I've considered switching to Android a few times but Apple's really locking in as my preferred device from their privacy work.

Not sure this moves the needle with consumers but it does for me.

The article is from Apple Insider, so I guess it's no surprise they don't mention it, but Android 10 has the same functionality, including reminders and per-app 3-way location tracking settings (always on, on with app open, off).

Granted it's been quite some time, but one of the reasons I switched to iOS from Android was Facebook kept "accidentally" exploiting bugs in Android and Google never did anything about it. At the time Facebook wasn't even one of the apps you could delete from your phone. Hopefully Android is better now.

> one of the reasons I switched to iOS from Android was Facebook kept "accidentally" exploiting bugs in Android and Google never did anything about it. At the time Facebook wasn't even one of the apps you could delete from your phone. Hopefully Android is better now

Um? What?

None of my Android phones, going back a great many years, had Facebook. So sure, I couldn't delete it - because it wasn't there.

My guess is you buy expensive/vanilla-OS Android phones. Lots of other Android phones have Facebook apps that can't be deleted.

The cheapest western Android phones like by Motorola, Nokia or Xiaomi (the around 150€ models) don't have this and you can uninstall everything that IS on there.

Actually the expansive ones like Samsung are the really bloated ones.

Maybe I should have said non-mainstream ones. I never saw an Android One phone unless it was specifically bought for pure Android.

Apple’s restrictive iOS is what’s pushed me to use Android. Sure, out-of-the-box, iOS is better for privacy. But with the right adjustments, power users can make Android much better for privacy than iOS.

I get the same location-data popup on Android.

Next step is to download Lockdown, open source and on device firewall. It also offers a VPN with an in-app purchase (kinda confusing when you are setting it up), but for free you get the firewall only. Easy to enable and block known ad-trackers (including FB sdk and Google Ads). Highly recommend. It's also made by ex Apple engineers, in case that helps for building trustworthiness.



> It's also made by ex Apple engineers, in case that helps for building trustworthiness.

It really shouldn't. Plenty of Apple engineers leave the company to work on shady things.

This app is not a firewall, it's a 'DNS sinkhole'.

Any app can easily circumvent this "firewall" by simply falling back to hard coded public ips of their servers if the domain lookup doesn't work.

I'm not saying it's a bad app, but it's misleading to call their app a "firewall".

True, firewall is for inbound connection. Thanks.

firewalls are for both inbound and outbound connections. The GP's point is this isn't blocking network connections because you can still access the end point via IP.

What this is doing is redirecting known domain names to a sink hole. Much like Pihole does.

So if I care about privacy, why in the heck would I trust yet another party with access to all of my internet communication?

It has one of the best privacy policies I’ve ever read.

“ Everything Lockdown Firewall does stays on your phone, so no data is transmitted to any of our servers. This can be confirmed by checking the source code, which is 100% open and public for anyone to examine. Lockdown Firewall doesn't use any type of third party analytics, trackers, or APIs, so there's no risk of your data leaking to third parties. This means there's no Google Analytics, no Facebook Pixel, no Mixpanel, Fabric, Mailchimp, etc — nada.

Information We Collect

Lockdown Firewall collects nothing. It all stays on your device.”

It runs on device and it's fairly easy to analyze the traffic, you are not giving a third party all your access. You could proxy all the traffic through a Mac running LittleSnitch, read their code, inspect the VPN profile it installs on the device, etc. It will only have access to your internet traffic if you opt-in in the actual VPN tunnel service they sell, which is optional.

Just downloaded it, too. It does ferret out those ads in the NYT app that I can’t seem to get Pi-Hole to filter out. Seems it will save me setting up a VPN to the home network to use Pi-Hole when on the road, too. So far, it’s two thumbs up. I’ll give it a few days, but I’ll throw some money their way in-app purchase even I never use their VPN (though I’ll certainly give it a whirl).

If you like Pi-hole, consider nextdns.io and their iOS app, or their plenty other configs/apps as well.

Using the web control panel, pick from high level categories to block, or drill down and select from among the most common of dozens and dozens of block lists. Make one or more configs, so different family members or devices can be blocked differently.

With Lightweight apps for Android, iOS, Windows, macOS and Chrome OS offering privacy and security benefits of DNS-over-HTTPS. Always-on on all networks automatically to automatically bypass network filtering and government censorship.

Their DNS hosts leverage latency-based routing to automatically use the DNS server with the lowest latency, or use a subset outside "Five eyes" locations.


Thanks for the heads-up, definitely interesting enough to take a look.

Maybe I'm just skeptical and a cynic, but...

> VPN with an in-app purchase

Lets pay for a product, and they have the ability to sell that data.

I get, acting like a pi-hole and what-not but, a VPN for that task seems overkill.

iOS requires a VPN profile (even a local VPN) for ruled-based adblocking. This is what AdGuard Pro [0] does for adblocking.

This does not mean that your data goes through a VPN server.

[0] https://adguard.com/en/adguard-ios-pro/overview.html

The VPN is optional purchase. I mentioned it since the setup is a bit misleading. The DNS blocking is free and on-device and available to run after skipping the VPN part. Pi-hole is harder to get right with a mobile device on the go unless you are hosting on your server. This is basically an app with a subset of features of pi-hole. iOS is very restrictive and to enable the on-device firewall you do need to use the VPN functionality but you can check the VPN profile it installs that references

VPN for that task seems overkill

If you can figure out another way to pull it off, I’d wager you could make a fair bit of cash. Or at least get a job offer at a lot of places you might like to work.

Vpn is the ux reason. It is the only way to have a way to inspect network traffic on android without rooting. And likely on ios.

Disclaimer: never used lockdown, not endorsing the product.

> a VPN for that task seems overkill

I think that’s the only way to perform certain tasks on iOS.

Just downloaded this to see. It has a log which within a minute blocked 6 ad networks. Great.

Here’s the thing: before all this privacy invading tracking nonsense advertising was a perfectly healthy business. Yes, it’s harder to know if your campaign worked but that didn’t stop people from advertising. I have zero sympathy for the ad industry complaining because of this.

On the other hand recently I restored my iPhone as new. The default settings may give users prompts to disable tracking but Siri is now a big tracker itself. Siri now learns from apps how you use them by default. While this may not be advertising and data may be on your device or with a trusted company like Apple, the idea of privacy should be that by default everything is opt in only. Who’s to say Apple is tailoring your iPhone behaviour ‘to your needs’ when in reality they are just trying to make you invest more into their ecosystem by learning from you ? That might sound like that’s helpful and might make the experience better but the main idea of tracking is still the same.

> ...forcing advertisers to use inefficient data sources to pinpoint users.

They should have said, "to pinpoint users against their will". If the user wanted to be pinpointed, they would allow location tracking in that app.

The thing is... we still do adaptations of Shakespeare, because human behavior hasn't changed all that profoundly in 600 years.

By the time we actually have privacy again, there will be enough information out there to mine about how people reacted five, ten years ago for the old data to continue to retain value. It'll just be repackaged and re-interpreted over and over again.

The coffee shop may no longer know that you also like kayaks, or bulldogs, but they might not need information like that to peg your preferences based on what stereotypes you fit with the information they do have.

One thing I wish iOS supported is allowing apps to access approximate location data. There's a lot of apps that bring value based on location, but I don't want to give them precise GPS data.

This feature sounds great on paper, but what's always bugged me is that this only applies to third-party apps. Apple's own location tracking apps (Maps, Find My) aren't subjected to never-ending scary pop-up messages like their competitors.

That's swell. It would also be great if there was a single button on the Control Center that would allow me to toggle global location on/off instead of how it is which is multiple clicks, scroll and confirmation.

Although it doesn't stop DNS over HTTPS, I use a DNS sinkhole on my home network and then I use wireguard to VPN into home when I'm not connected to my home WiFi.

The Wireguard iOS app allows you to automatically connect to your configured interfaces based on whether you're using cellular data, connected to specific SSIDs, or disconnected from specific SSIDs.

The only downside I have found to this approach so far is that it can break captive portals on public WiFi networks, which I will just disconnect from if I have a reasonable 4G signal.

That's great. Android also has this feature for couple of months now.

What's great it shows list of apps that use location in background so that you can disable all permissions in go.

Apple is clearly taking a position that some of the other big players can’t, and all indications are that they will squeeze this play very hard.

The likes of Google have rough waters ahead. Advertising on the internet is obviously here to say but the future of targeted ads based on all this tracking data is clearly looking very shaky.

Google and other companies have likely not done enough to diversify their business models to weather the coming storm without a lot of hurt.

Great step in the right direction.


- 80% of iOS 13 users disabled background location tracking - vendors still report having collected more location-based data than a year before, but - the quality of data has decreased (vendors are ofsetting GPS data with geo ip lookups)

I didn't find the UX and the initial permission/notification spam that annoying, as I've learned more about what's happening on my phone. Wondering if this is a shared sentiment or just my bias.

> The quality of that data is still a problem, as ad buyers notice it is of a lower quality than data that was previously available

Not a problem at all.

My Android phone started telling me about background location requests about 2 weeks ago as well with the option to block. It is a great feature.

To be fair I get a very similar notification when an app requests location data in the background in Android 10 too.

What sort of privacy protections does purism offer when you use librem apps? Anyone experiment with this so far?

Replace each occurrence of “location data” with, say, “cocain”.

> Despite the reduced amount of cocain available, the amount that is still available to use is more valuable, while the market for cocain continues to thrive.

I mean it’s disturbing.

Hey, good one, mate. Now let's try the First Amendment. I'm going to try replacing "speech" with "cocaine".

> Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of cocaine, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Good god. This is immeasurably disturbing. Forsooth, we must ban the freedom of speech!

Are you somehow trying to equate ad companies hoovering up our location data with the first amendment?

I was simply trying to convey how addicted they are to that data.

You can make everyone look addicted to something by replacing something with cocaine. It's because all the bad parts come from the fact that you're replacing something with cocaine

Excellent work, Apple! Keep it up!

Apple already collects all the data of their users heavily and moves like these are simply meant to annoy their competitors (mostly Google) and keep the data to themselves while looking like a good kid in the valley.

The number of gullible people aka Apple fanboys is staggering here who actually think Apple is trying to _save_ their privacy from advertisers after reading this highly biased article. Hah.

What makes you so sure about that?

I just read the first article, but I find the problem quite hard, actually.

The Atlantic article seems to say that Apple can do more, because: Safari defaults to Google (Tim Cook claims because it's the best search engine), plus they allow Google and Facebook apps, especially Google Maps. You'd rather they didn't?

The second article, from Krebs on Security, says that the location is collected by Apple for "a new short-range technology that lets iPhone 11 users share files locally with other nearby phones that support this feature, and that a future version of its mobile operating system will allow users to disable it".

I think it's far more nuanced than you state. However, I do agree with you that Safari should not default to Google.

Any sources for this?

The blog is one of biggest apple fanboy bullshits out there. And given the bias against google in HN / reddit, it is quite simple why apple is heralded as preserver of privacy.

Hell, one can disable most of google stuff and install f-droid, or even go lineageOS route. that's much, much more private than buying an overpriced, locked-in phone.

If Google is evil because it tracks some (easily hide-able) data that only few zealots care, then apple is much more evil, because they patent trivial things (such as optional chaining in swift, or rounded corners of phones) and do misleading marketing.

As someone who works in this space I see this from an alternative angle. Yes we use data like this in order to advertise to you, No Apple is no better than Google at how they approach this - they are just walling you further into their walled garden.

Google uses your location information to track your locations in order to provide better (more relevant) advertisements through their own ad platform.

Apple does exactly the same but because it doesn't have it's own ad platform this gets sent to their "Approved Partners" who do it on their behalf.

Stopping 3rd parties from being able to use this data simply tightens the circle, the data is anonymous (for the most part) and while there are companies that exist out there to tie this data to an actual person most companies like ours have no need to do so.

Likewise what you will start seeing off the back of this is a decrease in advert quality.

Like anyone - I despise adverts, but if I HAVE to see them I at least want them to be relevant products that I am interested in. Soon the only people who will be able to provide those insights will be Apple Partners or Google.

Why do I "have" to see ads? When I watch live theater, do the performers segue into a paid endorsement? The online ad industry as it currently exists, is too intrusive and the data it collects about us, are too much and permanent. It is past time for a change.

Because unfortunately other ways of widespread monetising the internet haven't gained traction. I like what Brave browser is doing and I think in the future this could be a really nice way of opting out of adverts via a "paid" internet route.

> Apple does exactly the same but because it doesn't have it's own ad platform this gets sent to their "Approved Partners" who do it on their behalf.

Apple sends my location information to third parties? Citation needed.

Specifically: (highlights via are mine)

To provide location-based services on Apple products, Apple and our partners and licensees[1], such as maps data providers, may collect, use, and share[2] precise location data, including the real-time geographic location of your Apple computer or device. Where available, location-based services may use GPS, Bluetooth, and your IP Address, along with crowd-sourced Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower locations, and other technologies to determine your devices’ approximate location. Unless you provide consent, this location data is collected anonymously in a form that does not personally identify you and is used by Apple and our partners and licensees to provide and improve location-based products and services[3]. For example, your device may share its geographic location with application providers when you opt in to their location services.

Some location-based services offered by Apple, such as the “Find My” feature, require your personal information for the feature to work.

[1] is basically discussing how Apple and its partners (advertising partners, business alignment partners etc) and importantly licensees (e.g. people they licence this data to for things like advertising) can use your data

[2] Collect, Use and Share - basically carte blanche

[3] Location based products and services - advertising is included in this - again via licensees!

I just looked. They do, but they share it anonymously unless you consent otherwise.


See "Location-Based Services" near the bottom.

I'm assuming this is for Maps/address resolution data and such, and not real time location information that can be used to identify a single user.

No one identifies a "User" (in a personal sense), everything goes via the IDFA or AAID, this is a unique identifier that represents your device. Real time location is used - it specifies it there, I am really not sure why people think Apple is more altruistic with this data than Google.

>Like anyone - I despise adverts, but if I HAVE to see them I at least want them to be relevant products that I am interested in.

I don't think it's fair to say all people despise ads. I've seen oddballs in the industry critique ads in the same way an arts major might critique contemporary art.

If you despise ads in general what motivates you to work in the industry?

I don't work in the advertising industry - I work in the data industry that just happens to provide most of it towards advertising. We have done some other "good" stuff as well surrounding footfall data for various purposes, but the primary income for most in this industry is consumer intelligence!

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