Apple has finally explained why the iPhone 11 continues to use location data even after its owner denies all apps and system services access to it.
Since September iPhone users have complained on Apple’s user forum about a “privacy location bug” affecting iPhone 11 devices.
Apple didn’t bother responding to user reports and offered a sparse answer to security reporter Brian Krebs for his report earlier this week about a “possible privacy issue” affecting iPhone 11 devices.
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An Apple engineer said Apple didn’t see “any actual security implications”, adding that it was “expected behavior” for the Location Services icon to appear at the top of the phone screen when Location Services is enabled.
The engineer explained: “The icon appears for system services that do not have a switch in Settings”. However, Apple offered no further explanation for the presence of the icon, even though all individual location services are disabled.
Apple now has offered a more detailed explanation to Krebs. However, the answer is so mundane it doesn’t make sense that Apple didn’t provide it immediately, other than it possibly contradicts the company’s advertised promise of the iPhone delivering simple privacy.
At the same time, the explanation shows that iOS is transparent about when the device shares location data – even when Apple can’t explain it.
According to Apple, the location data is being used by iPhone 11 devices due to a feature called Ultra Wideband (UWB), which is available on iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, and iPhone 11 Pro Max in most countries, but not Russia, Iran, Argentina, and Indonesia.
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The feature enables a better experience with the AirDrop file-sharing feature, allowing iPhone users to just point the device at another compatible device. The location icon appears because the iPhone periodically checks to see whether it is being used in a country where Apple hasn’t received approval to use UWB.
“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,” Apple said.
“iOS uses Location Services to help determine if iPhone is in these prohibited locations in order to disable Ultra Wideband and comply with regulations. The management of Ultrawide Band compliance and its use of location data [are] done entirely on the device and Apple is not collecting user location data.”
In a future iOS update Apple will include a dedicated toggle in System Services to disable the UWB activity.