iOS 13 Will Show You Where Your Apps Have Been Tracking You

iOS 13 Location Tracking Alert With Map Credit: 9to5Mac
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Apple’s iOS 13 took the stage a week ago with tons of new features, and while we’ve spent the last week discovering even more new stuff — ranging from CarPlay improvements the elimination of the old clunky volume indicator and support for PS4 and Xbox controllers — as developers spend more time playing with the first beta there’s still a lot more hidden in there that’s gradually coming to light.

Now, among the numerous privacy improvements coming to iOS 13, 9to5Mac has discovered that Apple’s newest OS update is also going to be a lot more forthcoming about keeping track of where third-party apps have been using your location, even going so far as to show it to you on a map.

As illustrated in the report, iOS 13 makes some pretty big changes to the popup notification that appears when apps have been tracking your location in the background. In addition to asking for confirmation as to whether background location tracking should be more restricted, iOS 13 will present an actual map view showing you where location data has been collected.

The notification will also include the app developer’s explanation for why this kind of background tracking is necessary and what it’s used for. Apple requires developers to include these explanations in order to use background location tracking, although it’s uncertain exactly how clear developers need to make these descriptions. For example, the Apple Store app simply says “We’ll provide you with relevant products, features, and services depending on where you are” while Tesla’s app tells you that it “uses your location to show your proximity to your vehicle (while the app is open), and to optimize phone key on your support vehicles (while the app is in the background)” and Environment Canada’s weather app explains that the user’s location is required “to provide GPS located weather information.”

These notifications will apparently show up for apps that have location privacy set to “Always Allow” — effectively allowing them to track a user’s location even while the app isn’t running — and will continue to appear periodically to remind users that these apps are tracking them in the background. Users will be able to immediately change the location privacy level to “Only While Using” (the app) directly from the notification, or confirm that it’s okay to always allow tracking in the background.

Apple is also adding the ability in iOS 13 to only allow one-time use of location features, which would be particularly useful for apps that need to look up a user’s address for shipping or delivery purposes but don’t need to continue tracking the user afterwards. The iOS 13 background privacy notifications don’t appear to offer this option right now, which sort of makes sense if you think about it, but it should appear when the app itself requests your location while running in the foreground — presumably in those cases where you haven’t already granted ongoing location access.

During its developer workshops, Apple also explained that the “Always” background tracking option is exclusive to the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. For whatever reason, Apple says that watchOS doesn’t need the feature, and tvOS and macOS don’t support it at all — they simply prompt the user every time location data is requested.

Apple also said that it will be cracking down on apps that try to bypass the built-in location privacy restrictions in iOS 13 by rolling their own Wi-Fi or Bluetooth location tracking features, which Apple’s Craig Federighi said is an abuse of the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth services.

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