Remember the news when Uber was accused of gathering user information even when the ride is over? This raised serious concerns among the users and recently some iOS monitoring software have also been doing the same. Apple, in its new iOS 11, has finally pulled the plug on this and has introduced a better way to find out which apps use the location information.
Apple allows the navigation or fitness apps to update the location information for their specific services in the background. But Apple lacks the systematic mechanism to know exactly how these apps are tracking data. Due to this, Apple has to depend on third-party reports. Some academic studies on tracking the in-app information flow revealed that the user’s location information may be shared without properly informing them. Although Apple provides a visual sign on the top right corner of its status bar, it is not easy for the users to spot it while some users are even unaware of the meaning of this tiny arrow’s appearance and absence.
But the sophistication and new user-interface features of iOS 11 help to clear this gray area. Apple is offering stricter controls this time to monitor the phone’s ecosystem.
How to find when an app needs to track our location?
Apple smartly added a new option in iOS 8 for the app developers to present the users with more choices about their location monitoring. Previously, the users had to choose between ‘Always’ and ‘Never’ options of being tracked by the app. The Apple added another option ‘While using the app’. This option allows the app to continue in the background in order to complete the initiated task.
By using this option, an app could now inform the user about the purpose of its location tracking. The user would also be clear that the tracking feature is only active if the app is active or a task is ongoing in the background. The iOS monitoring software do not allow the user to know its background location operations. But Apple included this option to the app-based location permission for those apps that want to include it as a choice. Its path is Settings > Privacy > Location > Services.
This feature did its job but it was still insufficient considering the information breach in recent times. During a presentation in WWDC 2017, a software engineer from Apple said that 80% of the apps that need location information chose to use ‘While Using’ only. The rest of the 20% apps do not use background location monitoring. While any other app that may not truly need location monitoring, ask for the ‘Always’ option and the users often turned them down.
But in the new iOS 11, Apple has introduced some changes that will affect all the existing and previous apps. Every app that previously asked for ‘Always’ option has to provide an option for ‘While using’. And in practice, it works even better. The developer should first request ‘While Using’ permission, and if the user allows, the app can later ask for ‘Always’ authorization if required.
But how is it important? If the app is not the usual iOS monitoring software, Apple will now allow the apps to ask for ‘Always’ permission just once. If the user does not allow, then they have to go to the Settings to change this. By following this method, Apple believes that the app developers would have a better success rate for in-app-only tracking.
Tracking made more transparent
If you use this feature, you will notice that the ‘While Using’ option only permits an app to receive location information if it has an active task running in the background. The app would not receive any further update when the specific task is finished. This feature is used for apps like Google Maps. This option is also paired with a double-height blue bar on the screen that notes the name of the active app. You can tap this blue bar to return to the app.
Apple has also changed this feature in the new iOS 11 for the apps that use ‘Always’ authorization only. Previously, these apps received location information through an arrow in the status bar. And many iPhone users were unaware of it.
But how will that change? In the new update, whether the authorization is set to ‘While using’ or ’Always’, the app that is collecting continuous location information will show a double-height blue bar. Although it may sound like a feature for the developers and users, it will also behave as an indicator that something is happening in the background in case you are unaware that the app is continuously tracking you. But it remains to be known how iOS monitoring software will respond to this update.
This new update will give the users autonomy to change the privacy configuration for those apps they don’t want to share the information with. They can also report any suspicious activity to the Apple. And if the Apple finds the suspicious activity, it will stop the developer from using the particular mode.
Those apps that receive constant location updates would not be able to get the double-bar treatment. This feature is for those apps that note your arrivals and departures. The iOS 11 has two different ways to tell you how an app is using your location. If an app actively requires the change in your location information, it will use and arrow outline. The arrow appears filled for a few moments when it delivers the location information to the app.
There are some battery concerns about it and the users may hate it. Continuous tracking in the background by some apps will steal the battery life as a result. This feedback may be used by the developers to improve the app. So wait for the beta period to end and mature this feature.
Apple has come a long way to in shifting its development priorities. The developers have now the better chance to experiment more according to the features of the phone.