Apple claims that its newer iPhones need to perform location checks in order to legally use their ultra wideband chips.
Earlier this week, security reporter Brian Krebs published a story explaining that Apple's latest iPhones (iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro) periodically check the user's location even if the user disables location services individually for each and every app and service in the iPhone's Settings app.
The report sparkled privacy concerns, as it typically happens when a device is unveiled to "stealthily" send information to the outside world.
Krebs had notified Apple of the issue as a potential security problem back in mid November, but the company responded this week stating:
We do not see any actual security implications... It is expected behavior that the Location Services icon appears in the status bar when Location Services is enabled. The icon appears for system services that do not have a switch in Settings.
Will Strafach, founder and CEO of the company behind the Guardian firewall app for iOS, said that the the location data associated with these events weren't leaving the device.
Apple today responded to TechCrunch's Zack Whittaker:
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.
Both the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro devices include a new chip called the U1 that enables ultra-wideband (UWB) for locating other devices in immediate proximity. Currently, it is only used for the phone's AirDrop file-sharing feature, but it is expected to be used for other features such as augmented reality and the company's rumored upcoming Tile competitor in the future.
Apple is following a privacy-oriented marketing in order to show a more privacy-friendly profile than rival Google (Android). This makes reports such as the latest one more interesting and "attractive" to users, and create a great deal of scrutiny.
Apple plans to add a new user-accessible toggle for the UWB-related behavior in an upcoming software update.