App Developers Claim Apple's iOS 13 Location Tracking Changes Are Anti-Competitive

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Apple in iOS 13 made changes to the way location tracking permissions work, and there's no longer an option for apps to ask to "Always Allow" location tracking.

Instead, Apple allows users to select "Allow While Using the App," "Allow Once," or "Don't Allow," which some app creators have taken offense to. The leaders of seven companies that make apps for iOS devices banded together to write an email to Apple CEO Tim Cook to speak out about the changes, with the details shared by The Information.

There's no longer an "Always Allow" option on privacy popups in iOS 13 for enabling permanent location access​

The companies that wrote to Cook are upset that there's no longer a readily available "Always Allow" option. Users can still turn on "Always Allow" in the Privacy section of the Settings app, but it's not available by default and requires additional steps.

As an example, Zenly, a location tracking app owned by Snap, needs to have location tracking on permanently to function. Since there's no option to turn on "Always Allow," Zenly has to have a clunky secondary display screen that instructs users to open up the Privacy settings on their iPhones to change the location setting. This makes consumers more aware of apps that are tracking them continually, but it is an extra step that app developers must contend with.

Apps that want continual location data must instruct customers to enable it in the Settings app​

According to the companies who wrote to Cook, the changes could potentially lead users to think their apps are broken unless they're "savvy enough" tweak Privacy settings. These are the companies whose leaders wrote to Cook about the privacy changes:

[*]Tile - Makes tracking devices for wallets, keys, and other objects.
[*]Arity - A company owned by Allstate that developers technology for measuring driver risk.
[*]Life360 - An app for sharing location with family and friends.
[*]Zenly - A location sharing app owned by Snap.
[*]Zendrive - A company that makes driver assessment apps.
[*]Twenty - A social networking app for finding friends nearby.
[*]Happn - A dating app.

The app creators suggested Apple create a two-step process that would let users grant apps access to locations as a solution, but it's not clear if Apple has plans to implement changes.

The companies were also concerned about changes Apple is making to a VoIP feature designed to let apps run in the background to listen for calls, but that was being abused for other tracking purposes. Apple doesn't plan to let developers use Apple's PushKit API for anything beyond voice calls in iOS 13.

While the companies admit that apps used this feature for tracking user location and for gathering data, they claim the change will hurt important app features. As an example, Life360 reportedly uses the feature to access a user's location to dispatch emergency services when a customer is involved in a car accident.

The email ends by pointing out that Apple's own apps do not need to get user permission to access user location, such as for Find My, which is built into the iPhone as a way to keep track of iOS and macOS devices.
"Like you, we are committed to ensuring that privacy is a top priority, but are concerned that the current implementation will create user confusion that actually undermines this goal," the e-mail to Cook reads. "The changes also have the added effect of removing critical geolocation functionality while simultaneously not applying to Apple's own apps, some of which compete with the products we develop."
In response to questions about the email, an Apple spokesperson told The Information that Apple's goal is to make the App Store a safe, trusted source for apps and to give its users the best products and ecosystem in the world.
We take responsibility for ensuring that apps are held to a high standard for privacy, security and content because nothing is more important than maintaining the trust of our users. Users trust Apple--and that trust is critical to how we operate a fair, competitive store for developer app distribution. Any changes we make to hardware, software or system level apps is in service to the user, their privacy and providing them the best products and ecosystem in the world.
In addition, Apple said that it is working with some of the companies that signed the email to find alternative methods for features that are being obsoleted, such as background tracking for purposes other than voice calls.

Apple also says that while system apps like Find My don't need to make location tracking requests from users, some Apple apps distributed through the App Store will abide by Apple's processes for requesting user permission to access location information. The full report with additional details can be read over at The Information.

Article Link: App Developers Claim Apple's iOS 13 Location Tracking Changes Are Anti-Competitive
 
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MagMan1979

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May 4, 2015
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Booo hooo cry me an ***** river, they won't be able to track us 24/7, nor dupe their users into said continuous tracking!

F them, and TWO THUMBS UP to Apple for this change!!!

If I wanna give an app this ability, such as for navigation apps, then I am capable going into Settings and doing it myself!
 

farewelwilliams

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Jun 18, 2014
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it's not anti competitive if users can switch to a comparable platform

apple having it easier on their own apps is just one of the benefits of spending billions of dollars on building out the platform.

it's no different than google including chrome browser out of the box in the pixel device but mozilla has to ask users to click through several times to install firefox
 

falainber

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Developers whining about Apple making it more difficult to allow background tracking?

Sounds like Apple is doing something right here.
Users buy/install many apps so that they "tracked" them because they want certain actions done based on the current location. Android's Tasker is a perfect example. User can have a lot of things done automatically (like changing phone settings) based on current location. Apple makes use of such apps more difficult. There are tradeoffs. For people who install a lot of apps indiscriminately and are also very concerned about privacy (sounds like an oxymoron, is not it?), the new approach might be preferable. For many other users, it's just an inconvenience.
 

nwcs

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Of course these companies cry foul. They are after personal data above all. I hope Apple stands firm and goes even further by default. It should be up to these companies to demonstrate such value in their products that users see clear benefit in granting them access. Even then there should be legal protections for user data. Personally, I would go much further than GPDR.
 

gplusplus

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You’ve got to take the good with the bad. Yea, the lock-in to Apple’s apps can be kind of frustrating, but at the end of the day, you’re afforded more privacy than any other ecosystem.

Apple’s prices are honest. Sure, it’s a lot of money, but what you pay as a consumer is dollars, that’s it. Competing, “cheaper” options come at the price of privacy and security. If you’re not paying for the product, then you are the product.

Am I annoyed that this now further locks down the iPhone? Sure. But do I think it’s a good move and a net positive? Absolutely. I fully support this decision and it makes me even more excited for the ecosystem. My wallet hurts, but at least there are many more options for acquiring cash than there are acquiring privacy.
 

Akrapovic

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Users buy/install many apps so that they "tracked" them because they want certain actions done based on the current location. Android's Tasker is a perfect example. User can have a lot of things done automatically (like changing phone settings) based on current location. Apple makes use of such apps more difficult. There are tradeoffs. For people who install a lot of apps indiscriminately and are also very concerned about privacy (sounds like an oxymoron, is not it?), the new approach might be preferable. For many other users, it's just an inconvenience.
It can be enabled in the settings menu. Giving more power to consumers to understand and control their privacy in an ecosystem that has more bad actors than anyone cares to admit should not be seen as a bad thing.
 

macduke

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I've seen so many apps that always want to monitor my location just to save me the "convenience" of typing in my zip code. Really. Why do these companies always need to track us? Because they are up to no good. Any extra friction that keeps a user who is not paying attention from giving away their privacy in full is well-intentioned friction.
 

jclo

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Dec 7, 2012
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I understand what app developers are getting at here, but honestly, users who aren't savvy enough to go into the Privacy settings and change the option to "Always Allow" when necessary are the exact people who probably shouldn't be continually tracked by an app.
 

falainber

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It can be enabled in the settings menu. Giving more power to consumers to understand and control their privacy in an ecosystem that has more bad actors than anyone cares to admit should not be seen as a bad thing.
It depends. You assume that most apps are there to get you. They are not. One could prevent any given app from tracking your location before. Nothing changes here.
 

kingfish78

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Apr 23, 2008
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It's pronounced Tay-Hahs...
There are few legitimate reasons that an App needs to track me 24/7. Tile is a great example. Unless I want to use the features that allow Tile to alert me if I've forgotten my keys, then I just need location to be accessed when I open and use the App. It's tracking my keys, backpack, or whatever... it doesn't need to track me. Sure, I trade some functionality, but that's my choice. The problem is that too many developers are not publicly coming clean with all of the information that their apps are recording and what they're doing with it. I'll opt for the privacy that this helps provide. After all - the functionality is still there, it's just a little harder to get to.
 

falainber

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I understand what app developers are getting at here, but honestly, users who aren't savvy enough to go into the Privacy settings and change the option to "Always Allow" when necessary are the exact people who probably shouldn't be continually tracked by an app.
You presume that the apps track users [only] for nefarious purposes. Most of them don't. Would you say that people with, say, Alzheimers disease, installing the app that tracks their location so that relatives could watch after them, should not be able to easily enable tracking?