Privacy news usually does not evoke many warm and fuzzy feelings so brace yourself. Yes, your iPhone is tracking you. No, you probably didn’t know it—even if you’re familiar with the device’s countless requests to let apps use your location.
The tracking element is called Featured Frequent Locations (FFL) for iPhone. It was first launched with iOS 7 and has popped up in news reports from time to time as users discover that Apple wants your location data even more than some privacy advocates feared.
It’s all about location, location and location. Some locations are just more meaningful than others. Parents might like to know, for example, where their son’s phone went last Saturday night. Unless the device is locked, anyone can rapidly access FFL and see precisely where you’ve been and how long you lingered there. It only takes a few seconds.
A single phone can track dozens of locations and times. A casual spontaneous visit to a friend’s home lasted 1 hour and 58 minutes? Is that overstaying your welcome? Only the iPhone knows.
In addition to capturing time, date and duration of location, the feature also documents attendance at meetings, where you were on your last sick day and how long you are at lunch. Yeah, kinda creepy.
Apple has publically touted the FFL feature as a way to determine places that are important to the phone’s user. To what end? Are targeted ads coming in the pipeline? Creepier by the minute.
“This data is kept solely on your device and will not be sent to Apple without your consent. It will be used to provide you with personalized services, such as predictive traffic routing,” the company said (emphasis Apple’s).
Apple hopes you’ll agree to share the data, however. On the FFL main screen under the heading “Improve Maps”, the company encourages users to help make Apple’s Maps be the best they can be.
“Apple will only retain the resulting coordinates in an anonymous form to improve Maps and other Apple location-based products and services,” the company promises. Reassured? If not, turn it off.
The possibilities are chilling. In many states, it’s still legal for an employer to demand your social media password so why not your phone’s? Can the courts use the feature to determine whether you spent the required hours at your community service assignment? Will this data be subject to subpoena in criminal cases? What will Dad say when he sees where you went last night and that you were out after curfew?
While privacy advocates often urge consumers to shut off all location data, such a move can be impractical. It negates the use travel apps, weather apps, movie time apps and other useful services. On the iPhone, you can turn location on or off for each individual app but FFL is a whole ‘nother animal that requires special attention.
Here’s how to see what your iPhone’s logged recently. Start at the Settings page. Scroll down to the Privacy tab. On the next page open Location Services. At the very bottom is System Services. Open that and you’ll be at the FFL page. You can deactivate the feature here.
One good feature? FFL’s history is easy to wipe.