Update 12/5/19: Apple has finally explained that this is part of an on-device process used for regulatory compliance and it promised a new tool to toggle the feature off in the future. You can read a full explanation of what’s going on right here.
Original story below.
Apple talks a very, very big privacy game, but a report has found the latest generation of iPhones may not give users as much control over their privacy as Apple would like them to believe.
In a video of the issue, Krebs manually disabled Maps, Siri, and individual System Services settings from the Location Services menu in Settings but enabled the setting to show the arrow-shaped Status Bar Icon and left the Location data tab enabled. Then, Krebs navigated to the Control Center and put the phone in Airplane Mode. When Krebs turned Airplane Mode off, the arrow icon appeared in the Status Bar despite there being no apps open beyond Settings.
Krebs said he was unable to dupe the issue on an iPhone 8 despite the phone running the most recent version of iOS 13 and speculated that the issue might be related to the iPhone 11’s hardware and support for WiFi 6.
That an Apple device may continue to track its user’s location even after they take measures to prevent it from doing so is particularly curious considering that performative grandstanding about privacy is the company’s whole schtick. The company boldly took out an entire billboard in Vegas during CES this year claiming—somewhat embarrassingly—that whatever “happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone.” But if users don’t even have the power over their own iPhones to prevent the company from tracking their location, that would certainly appear not to be the case.
Perhaps this is a bug, though the Apple engineer’s comment to Krebs that the arrow icon shows up for system services that don’t have on and off switches in Settings doesn’t seem to indicate that’s the case. Or, maybe the evidently always-on location tracking is one small but significant reason Apple was uncharacteristically hushed on privacy during its iPhone 11 event this year.