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

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.


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.


Disgusted face via Shutterstock.