Apple explains why iPhone 11 keeps checking your location

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Apple clarified that the occasional location checks made by the iPhone 11 aren’t surreptitious tracking.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

simpEarlier this week, a security researcher made waves after discovering that the iPhone 11 uses Location Services even after owners block access to the feature. Apple then released a short, vague explanation that actually explained nothing.

Today, Apple finally released a statement clarifying what’s going on. It goes into much greater detail. And it explains why the checks can’t be used to track users.

UWB-related location checks, not tracking

A bit of furor erupted after researcher Brian Krebs revealed that Apple’s latest handsets intermittently seek location information regardless of the user’s privacy settings. Initially, Apple simply called this “expected behavior.”

However, the company was much more forthcoming today in a statement to Krebs On Security. Apple says the location checks are related to new wireless tech built into the 2019 iPhones:

“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. 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 is done entirely on the device and Apple is not collecting user location data.”

Krebs points out that only a few countries ban UWB. (Those countries include Argentina, Indonesia and Paraguay.) The research also questions whether it’s really necessary for every iPhone to frequently check if it’s in one of those areas.

But Krebs says Apple promised that a future version of iOS will provide a toggle to disable UWB. That would give users a way to turn off the location checks.

Ultra Wideband basics

The iPhone 11 series is the first Apple product with UWB. It’s not surprising that there should be some wrinkles to iron out.

Currently, this tech is only used for AirDrop, which seems overkill considering Apple added a whole new processor to its latest handsets just for this short-range wireless standard.

But Ultra Wideband is expected to play a big part in AirTags, the rumored item-tracker tags that promise to help users to locate bags, keys and assorted other valuables.