Apple admits iPhone 11s are sharing user location data — but not collecting it

Apple finally explained why the iPhone 11 keeps sharing location data even when the feature is individually deactivated for all apps and services.

Concern over the matter was recently raised by security reporter Brian Krebs, who previously contacted Apple about what he believed was a possible privacy bug. Krebs uploaded a video showing that even after all apps and system services were set to “never” request location data on an iPhone 11 Pro, the arrow icon that indicates that location services are working still kept appearing. The only way to prevent the smartphone from sharing its location was to deactivate the main Location Data service under Settings.

It was unclear what the iPhone was doing, as there was no available information explaining what was happening. “We do not see any actual security implications,” an Apple engineer wrote to Krebs, adding that Location Services will keep working “for system services that do not have a switch in Settings.”

It took a couple of days, but Apple finally gave a clearer explanation for this issue with newer iPhones.

According to Apple, the newer iPhones, including the iPhone 11 Pro Max, keep sharing location data because they include ultra wideband technology. The technology “provides spatial awareness” to the devices, allowing them to determine where other devices with the same technology are located.

“So users can do things like share a file with someone using AirDrop simply by pointing at another user’s iPhone,” Apple said.

Apple added that the location services arrow will keep appearing for the newer iPhones because they will periodically check if the device finds itself in a country where ultra wideband technology has not yet received approval. (The list of countries where the feature is not yet allowed is small, and includes Argentina, Indonesia, and Paraguay.)

“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,” the company said.

Following Krebs’ report, Apple said that in a future iOS update, it will add a toggle in System Services that will allow owners of the newer iPhones to disable ultra wideband technology activity. When exactly that option will roll out was not specified.