Apple surfaces your location history in iOS7

ioS7 Location

Robert Scoble posted a screenshot from iOS7 this morning which may have the privacy aware freaking out. In the latest version of the iPhone software, Apple now shows you a history of your frequent locations. This can be accessed by visiting Settings | Privacy | Location Services | System Services | Frequent Locations.

The issue comes from default settings. If you have location services enabled say for navigation apps, the Frequent locations is on by default. This compiles a list of your most frequently visited locations and are stored, with date and time stamps and the geolocation pinned on a map.

While this is likely to have privacy advocates screaming in anger I actually don’t have a problem with it. iOS clearly knew this information about your behavior in previous releases, but in iOS7 it is surface for users to control. Naturally if you don’t like it, you can turn it off and you can clear your history at any time.

Think of a feature like location-aware reminders, these are created easily through Siri by giving a command like ‘next time I’m at the supermarket, remind me to buy milk’. This can only work if the phone knows which supermarket you visit the most, alternatively you’d have to manually enter the address and that would destroy the simplicity of the system.

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Places like home and work are likely to be added to your list of frequent locations, so the real risk here is if you loose an unlocked phone, the quote unquote bad guys, could find out where you live. While it may not be listed a ‘home’ it’s a fair bet it’ll be the frequent location with the most visits, unless you work 7 days every week, in which they’d have 2 locations to choose from.

Basically it boils down to this, if you have an unlocked phone, or hand an unlocked phone to a stranger, you risk a lot of personal information being exposed, the your favourite locations may not be the worst thing they could leverage.

What will be interesting to watch is how Apple leverages this data and if they allow 3rd party developers to access it. If they do, it does actually provide some serious data to work with to provide context-aware applications. Imagine the phone knew when you were at work and instantly showed your work inbox ahead of your private email, then when you returned home that switched. The same would work for To-do-lists, or better yet, if you visited your favourite supermarket, an app could alert you that your normal shopping is available cheaper elsewhere.

What do you think of the feature? Is it just surfacing what Apple knew about you anyway, or a bad security flaw that should be off by default?

  • JimGramze

    The first thing your iPhone does when you set it up is ask if it can track your location. This is not on or off by default. Similarly apps that can use location data ask permission. Same with Notifications. If you don’t want your locations stored or pestered with notifications then it is your own fault if that becomes the case.

    It seems to me good people want their location tracked and bad people don’t. Let’s say I’m going to rob a bank. I give my evil henchman my phone and have him go 30 miles out of town for breakfast during the time of the robbery. That gives me “proof” that I wasn’t at the scene of the crime. It also shows why this is flimsy evidence.

    Regardless, every phone worth having has GPS and can be tracked. If you don’t like that then don’t own one.

  • Chuck Kahn

    Just upgraded my iPhone and discovered my location history was reset, despite doing an iTune backup and restore. Doesn’t Apple know that Frequent Locations are relevant to the user, not the particular device the user is holding? Apple Support wasn’t sure whether an encrypted backup and restore would have made a difference. Any ideas? I just lost a whole afternoon doing a backup and restore yesterday (too many apps) and am reluctant to try it again (this time encrypted) anytime soon.