Your iPhone 11 Pro Is Tracking Your Location (Even If You Tell It Not to)

iPhone 11 Pro in Apple Store Credit: Ononymous Phtographer / Shutterstock

A security journalist and researcher first spotted the issue, posting a YouTube video demonstrating the location tracking even when all Location Services toggles were switched off. See below.

In response, Apple said that it’s “expected behavior” for the iPhone. But for the privacy and security conscious, there are a couple of additional layers to the story.

What the Problem Is

Essentially, the main issue with this behavior is that there are certain “hidden” system settings that users cannot disable Location Services for.

In his video, this is demonstrated by the fact that the Location Services arrow icon still periodically appears on his iPhone 11 Pro — even when all of the switches in Settings are set to never access a user’s location.

This seems to conflict with Apple’s strong pro-privacy stance and the fact that its privacy policy implies that users have extremely granular control over their location data.

It also appears to be a recent change. On past iPhone models, switching all services and apps to Never was enough to effectively disable Location Services on an iPhone. From there, users could pick and choose specifically which apps and services they want to use.

Put another way, privacy-conscious users have either two choices: turn Location Services off entirely or be stuck with the fact that there are hidden system settings that will still access it.

In response to the researcher’s questions, an Apple engineer said that the company doesn’t see any “actual security implications.”

“It is expected behavior that the Location Services icon appears in the status bar when Location Services is enabled,” the engineer wrote. “The icon appears for system services that do not have a switch in Settings.”

While Apple hasn’t confirmed what specific system services were introduced on the iPhone 11, the researcher theorizes that it could be tied to new hardware related to Wi-Fi 6 support.

How to Keep Your iPhone from Tracking You

If you’re worried about your iPhone tracking your every move, the solution differs depending on the model you have.

For users of the iPhone XS and earlier devices, heading into:

  1. Settings
  2. Privacy
  3. Location Services and individually managing access there should be enough.

On these devices, only the apps and services you explicitly choose will have access to your location.

For the iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max, users who want to restrict Location Services have fewer options.

They can simply live with the fact that there are hidden system settings that access their location. Or, they can disable Location Services entirely — which does stop the hidden location access but will also impact their iPhone’s usefulness.

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