You know the little Location Services triangle in the top right of your iPhone’s status bar well. It floats there faithfully every day, representing modern technology’s obsession with location data. Knowing where you are and what you do on a daily basis is incredibly valuable to advertisers and merchants looking to sell the next “x because you where at x.” Knowing your location also makes apps and iOS smarter, which ultimately makes the experience of using your iPhone more seamless.
If you’ve had Location Services turned on, then you’ve already been giving Apple permission to silently track your every move. A new setting in iOS 7 called “Frequent Locations” makes how and to what level you are tracked more transparent, right down to the minute you left your house yesterday.
Buried in Settings -> Privacy -> Location Services -> System Services -> Frequent Locations lies an eerily detailed history of where you’ve been. There’s even a nice map view. You can drill down individually into different trips to see exactly when you, say, arrived at and left from that one park two weeks ago. After using iOS 7 on my main iPhone 5 since June, I can see everything from when I went to the doctor earlier this week to where I stayed in Florida earlier this summer. Not everything is logged, but the list is comprehensive enough to get a good idea of my habits. And that is exactly what Apple wants.
Why does Apple need Frequent Locations? When you first open the Maps app in iOS 7, Apple asks you if you want to help improve the app by giving iOS access to track your frequent locations. That’s about as clear as it gets. Apple is crowdsourcing to make Maps better, which is smart for a company that doesn’t devote the manpower and resources to mapping that Google does.
The new “Today” view in Notification Center uses data pulled from your calendar, weather info, and location. It will often tell me that it takes x amount of minutes to drive home from wherever I am, which is helpful, contextual information that I don’t even have to ask for. That’s probably why there are separate toggles to turn off “Frequent Locations” and “Improve Maps” in Settings. Apple is using your location data for much more than just Maps.
Whether it’s done out of ignorance or not, letting Apple (or any other company) track you is an act of trust. Apple has done a pretty good job of respecting that trust so far.