Apple Explains Why iPhone 11 Pro Requests Location Data When Services Are Turned Off

Apple iPhone 11 Pro Ultra Wideband UWB Precise AirDrop

Apple has faced criticism over the past week after it was revealed that its new phones request location data even when a user has specifically set not do so. Now, the company has responded to the unwanted behavior by stating that it is due to the UWB (ultra wideband) feature.

Security expert Brian Krebs had reported that Apple’s iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max devices request location data even when a user chooses not to do so. Krebs reached out to the iPhone maker in November after he found out conflicting behavior with the intention of reporting it as a bug. However, an Apple engineer wrote back saying, “We do not see any actual security implications” and that it is “expected behavior.

Apple blames the U1 chip that is used in the iPhone 11 Pro series of devices and its UWB technology. The company’s spokesperson responded to TechCrunch saying that Apple is not collecting any user location data or storing it on its servers. The location data request is entirely being checked on the device itself. He said that the firm plans to provide an option to disable location requests by iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max in the future through a software update.

The company’s executive was quoted saying, “Ultra wideband technology is an industry standard technology and is subject to international regulatory requirements that require it to be turned off in certain locations. iOS uses Location Services to help determine if iPhone is in these prohibited locations in order to disable ultra wideband and comply with regulations. The management of ultra wideband compliance and its use of location data is done entirely on the device and Apple is not collecting user location data.

Ultra Wideband can be seen as a refined version of Bluetooth where it can precisely locate other Ultra Wideband equipped devices. It is like GPS in nature but works over short distances only. Due to the U1 chip inside the new iPhones, it is possible for the company to implement the improved AirDrop functionality. The iPhone 11 Pro series devices display the names of those users first in the list whom you are facing physically while sharing files via AirDrop.

The company will reportedly use the same technology in allegedly upcoming AirTag Bluetooth trackers. Such small tracking devices, which are expected to resemble Tile’s Bluetooth trackers, would help users in keeping a track of or finding lost/misplaced devices.

Our Take

Since Apple focuses a lot of effort into marketing user privacy as one of the advantages of using its products and ecosystem, it is fundamental for the company to fix the bug as soon as possible. If it keeps such bugs (if they are indeed bugs) unresolved for a long time, it would lose user trust with respect to their data and privacy information.