iOS 7: Apple’s Frequent Locations Service is a Turn-off

| Editorial

In iOS 7, Apple makes explicit to the user (or someone else) a log of frequent geographic locations visited. Called Frequent Locations, basically, the iPhone now remembers everywhere the user goes. This option is buried deeply in iOS 7 Settings, and it should be turned off by default. Here's why I believe that.

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For a long time now, Apple has been aware of customer concerns about privacy, specifically the tracking of their movements. In general, the whole community of smartphone users has become rather touchy about how the information about them in their phones, in all respects, is accessed and used by the manufacturer, developers and the government.

In the summer of 2013, that cultural current should have informed Apple about the direction to take for iOS 7 features. In spite of that, however, it is interesting that Apple has decided to make its Frequent Locations setting turned on by default.

For some background on this, see Dave Hamilton's "12 New and Hidden Settings in iOS 7." The question posed, under this screen shot was: "Do you like the idea of your iPhone remembering where you've been?"

Of course, one could argue that iOS has been tracking your travels since version 6, and this is merely a courteous surfacing of that data to the user.

My point goes beyond that, namely, that Apple has a responsibility to clearly explain the benefits of any feature that could affect our privacy. If the feature is great, tech writers will say so, and customers will, in a sense, line up around the block to use it. The benefits must vastly outweigh the negatives in the mind of the customer.

Instead, Apple has buried this function very deep. Settings > Privacy > Location Services > System Services > Frequent Locations. The default, on install, is set to on, which telegraphs that Apple is more interested in burying the function and having it left on than exposing the user to a considered choice. By the way, asking if the user wants Location Services enabled at install doesn't adequately inform the user about "Frequent Locations," so I don't buy that as a justification.

Nowadays, the option for any service that can be called into question for its impact on privacy must be off by default until the user makes the determination that the benefit outweighs the risks. For Apple to turn that function on by default betrays the user and reduces customer trust that Apple is looking out for the interests of the customer, first and foremost, and not its own competition-driven agenda or financial motivations. Or merely geek enchantment with the art of the possible.

In other words, the customer has the ultimate right to an informed choice -- to evaluate the usefulness of an Apple service, not Apple engineers. If the feature turns out to be, in time, revolutionary and wonderful, it will get noticed and enabled. Until then, the verdict must remain out.

As punctuation of this theme, I am constantly reminded of the legendary Lily Tomlin skit: "We Don’t Care. We Don’t Have To. We’re the Phone Company."

"We're the phone company."

That approach cannot, must not be Apple's fate.

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Disgusted face via Shutterstock.

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Comments

skipaq

I totally agree. Thanks.

Jon Shanahan

This should be labeled an opinion piece. I find this data invaluable and ever since the information surfaced that they were recording this data I have lusted over the ability to see it. Pair that with the fact that it integrates with notification center’s “Today” summary to let you know what traffic is like before your commute is pure user value. The fear of “someone might find out where I have been and then know what I am up to” is an old hat notion that is quickly being eradicated by the helpful nature of automatic data you don’t have to search for. I’ll just chock this one up under SEO.

Lee Dronick

If I remember correctly, and I may not, during the upgrade install process I was asked if I wanted this on. I do have it on and will probably continue to do so. I do have two of the features turned off; Location-Based iAds and Popular Near Me.

John Martellaro

Mr. Shanahan. It *was* labeled an opinion piece. Look at the header, and you’ll see “editorial.”  Editorials are always opinions.

I didn’t quibble with the usefulness of the feature.  In your case, you’ve shown that the advantages outweigh the risks, in your own experience, just as I suggested.  You made an informed choice.

ibuck

John M, I totally agree that it should be an explicit choice for each user and not on by default.

Jon Shanahan, I find your comments (“someone might find out…”) naive and troubling. Though you may find the feature useful for yourself—by your choice, your glossing over the potential threats as “old hat” seems to indicate some ignorance as to how the info could be used in untoward ways.

mhikl

At first I thought this feature was part of all iOS 7 devices but not finding Frequent Locations on either my iPad3 or iPt, I surmised it must be for iPhones; reread article more clearly and fount it to be so.

But then followed Lee’s suggestion and offed Location Based iAds & Popular Near Me.

Agreed, sounds a little intrusive, nonetheless. Very un-Apple like.

Anyone heard of the nausea reports about iOS? Best left unaddressed, tho’ Dvorak plays the ‘honest reporter’ in his backhanded support of this fairy tail. Silly stuff. Sniffs of desperation by a very worried competition.

Lee Dronick

I wonder how it determines “Frequent.” The map shows my usual haunts, but also a place that I have been to once, the new San Diego City Downtown Library. Now I did take quite a few photos and videos there, and I had Find Friends turned on, but it is not yet a frequent place.

GraphicMac

I’m going to file this “issue” in the same drawer as the “Apple needs to make it clear that emptying the trash will delete my files” people.

If you’re not capable of understanding what a modern smartphone does (because every smartphone on the market does this), and how handset & app makers make money, then you shouldn’t own a smartphone.

If you’re so lazy that you can’t be bothered to take 10 minutes to go through all the settings of your smartphone, then you probably shouldn’t use a smartphone.

At the very least, if you can’t be bothered to learn these things, then you should lose the right to bitch about it.

ibuck

Graphicmac, having a bad day?

Surely you’re not serious about reducing the smartphone market to only those with, as John puts it, “geek enchantment.” That would reduce Apple’s customers by at least half, and Android users by 95%. Then there wouldn’t be enough of a market for smartphones for large companies to bother with. Years ago, there were some who thought no one should drive a car if they didn’t know how to gap a sparkplug and tune-up the engine. Come on.

Imagestealer

I have an iPhone 4 and cannot find that setting anywhere.  Is this model specific?

GraphicMac

@ibuck: Perhaps I’m not being clear. I’m not suggesting that the “non-geeks” as I call them (the general public) shouldn’t buy smartphones. To the contrary. But these are not the people bitching about privacy, locations, maps, blah, blah, blah. They have no idea what we’re talking about, and they simply don’t give a shit. They can make phone calls and send an email or text message - and that’s all they care about.

It’s the people that “know enough to be dangerous” that I’m talking about. I like to refer to them as freaking idiots. The ones who sign up for every social network, share every aspect of their life on them, then scream privacy violation when someone outside their own household actually sees it - yet don’t bother to read-up on things. They simply like to complain, because it’s easier.

Terrin

I disagree that there is anything wrong with Apple’s approach. Apple asks the users when setting up the phone if it wants to share location information with Apple to improve Maps. Instead, of Apple hiding the information it collects, it allows you to see it. I much prefer this then having the information not available to me at all. If you don’t want Apple tracking the information, say no when setting your phone up. Moreover, if people expect improved mapping services, that isn’t going to happen without Apple being able to use location information. Google is certainly collecting it.

Moreover, hiding the information from Apple is sort of a joke. The cellular service provider tracks location information, and I find them less trust worthy.

Terrin

@iBuick:

Why does GraphicMac have to be having a bad day to be disagreeing with you. HIs view is valid. Further, I remember when before Apple released the iPhone so called experts where saying Apple would be successful if it captured 1 percent of the smartphone market.

Imagestealer:

The feature I think is only on iPhone 5 and above.

blooddrunk527

What is with the argument “Apple has buried this function very deep.”? How can you imply Settings > Privacy > Location Services > System Services > Frequent Locations is suspicious? All of those make logical sense to me!

Breaking them all down: Settings (this is a setting. I would prefer Apple doesn’t start putting settings on the home screen) > Privacy (GPS Tracking is a privacy matter. I think that is pretty obvious to most people) > Location Services (okay, GPS devices give you locations, correct?) > System Services (this is your only iffy one. But, if you look at Location Services, it is a collection of all of your location preferences that is APP SPECIFIC. Apple put System Services to distinguish between app specific location preferences and system location preferences) > Frequent Locations (the topic of discussion).

If they had put it in Settings > Music > Privacy > ... > Frequent Locations then your argument would make more sense.

Also, they make use of this feature right on your notifications menu under “Today”. Somebody naive enough to believe that the iPhone is just guessing where you might want to go next isn’t going to really worry about government tracking. By the way, this feature is a feature I have been wanting ever since I first started using navigation apps on a smartphone. For someone who has a long commute downtown every morning, just quickly looking at this feature to check travel time is amazing!

ibuck

In my experience as a trainer, anything beyond 2 or 3 clicks, or taps, is too deep for most users.

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