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Ultra Wideband Technology: Apple’s Explanation for Why Newer iPhones Appear to Collect Location Data, Even When Location Services Are Disabled

Zack Whittaker, reporting for TechCrunch:

“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,” an Apple spokesperson told TechCrunch. “iOS uses Location Services to help determine if an 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,” the spokesperson said.

That seems to back up what experts have discerned so far. Will Strafach, chief executive at Guardian Firewall and iOS security expert, said in a tweet that his analysis showed there was “no evidence” that any location data is sent to a remote server.

Nick Heer, writing at Pixel Envy:

This makes complete sense to me and appears to be nothing more than a mistake in not providing a toggle specifically for UWB. It seems that a risk of marketing a company as uniquely privacy-friendly is that any slip-up is magnified a hundredfold and treated as evidence that every tech company is basically the same.

It is totally fair to hold Apple to a higher standard on privacy than other companies. But Heer is exactly right: when they do make a mistake, it’s going to be magnified. The mistake here wasn’t that location data was leaked — including to Apple’s own servers, apparently. The mistake was not making it clear in Settings that UWB requires location data for regulatory compliance. Most people don’t even know what UWB is at this point.

It reminds me of the controversy over battery throttling two years ago. iOS was trying to work in the user’s interest, to make a device with an older battery as useful as it could be. But it wasn’t explained or exposed as an option in Settings, and people jumped to the conclusion that it was a nefarious scheme to get people to buy new iPhones.

And let’s not forget that Settings is already a big app, even with Apple’s generally conservative approach to adding new preferences.

Saturday, 7 December 2019