In iOS 11, Apple offersa better way to know what apps are users, which will hopefully lead to apps that are better behaved. This is seemingly an outcome from Uber (and potentially other apps) gathering information from users when the app isn’t in use (although in Uber’s case, they may not have crossed a line).

Apple’s guidelines for background location services allow for updates of specific needs, such as with navigation or fitness apps. But there’s no realistic way for Apple to know precisely how apps are tracking data, so the company has to rely on outside reports. A couple of academic efforts to let users track in-app information flow revealed that location (and other private data) may be sent without appropriate disclosure. While Apple provides a small visual cue in the status bar, users have to be paying attention to spot it and might not know what the tiny arrow that appears and disappears means.

The new sophistication and user-interface elements in iOS 11 should make this all a lot clearer. Apple is offering a carrot and stick and cudgel to move the ecosystem further along.

When an app really needs to track you

In iOS 8, Apple added an option for developers to offer users more choices about tracking. Instead of providing a stark tradeoff between always being tracked and never—users readily choose never—Apple added “While Using the App,” which includes the app continuing in the background on a task you started.

An app could present a user with the clear message that tracking would only be used while a user had the app active and in the foreground, along with the purpose for such tracking. Apple also added the selection to app-based location permissions in Settings > Privacy > Location Services for apps that included it as a choice, whether an alternative to Always or as the only option besides Never.

Apple

Apps can no longer just ask for Always.

That worked well, but apparently didn’t go as far as Apple wanted. In a WWDC 2017 presentation, an Apple software engineer said that about 80 percent of apps that request location chose to only invoke While Using. But he said Apple found many of the 20 percent of remaining apps don’t actually make use of background location. The rest may not truly need it, but ask for Always and users may turn them down.

In iOS 11, Apple has made a change that will affect all apps old and new. Every app that asks for Always also has to provide an option for While Using. And Apple’s presentation suggested a better practice: a developer should ask first for While Using permission, which, if granted, allows them to later ask for Always authorization if needed.

That’s important because Apple will now allow asking for permission just once for Always. If a user turns it down, they have to use Settings to change their mind later. By staging the request, Apple believes developers would get a higher success rate for in-app-only tracking while also reducing the scope of what apps get from us.



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