Apple’s decision to be much more proactive in alerting users to background location tracking in iOS 13 has resulted in a 68% drop in the location data collected by apps. The issue has also seen greater media attention, with many people now learning about the existence of commercial location-tracking databases.

iOS has long offered users control over whether and when an app can track your location, but iOS 13 introduced two changes that have made users much more aware of the issue…

First, when an app is using location tracking in the background, iOS 13 periodically launches a pop-up that reminds the user that they granted this permission, and offers the option to switch it off.

Second, we now have the option of requiring an app to ask for permission every single time it wants to access our location.

Google has also followed suit with similar privacy protections in Android 10.

Fast Company reports that the combination of these two things has seen a 68% fall in background location tracking, and a 24% fall in foreground tracking (while an app is open).

‘As those particular options were made available to users, we do attribute that to the decrease in sharing,’ says Jason Smith, Location Sciences’ chief business officer.

Android’s location controls haven’t always been as useful, but the latest Android 10 release plays catchup with a similar ‘only while in use’ setting when apps request location data. Like iOS, Android 10 also alerts users when an existing app collects location data in the background and provides a shortcut to stop the app from doing so.

App developers have been able to monetize your location data by letting advertisers serve location-based ads. This allows them to promote local outlets or push offers on products sold nearby.

The piece says that they will still be able to do this using your IP address, but this will provide a less reliable and granular location.

With Apple and Google providing less ready access to GPS location data, marketers will likely turn to IP addresses for location tracking instead, says Location Sciences’ Smith. Apps and websites can collect this data through the mobile or Wi-Fi network you’re using, and neither iOS nor Android offer any built-in controls to prevent it.

However, an increasing number of people are opting to use VPN services, especially when using public Wi-Fi hotspots. These protect users against man-in-the-middle attacks from fake hotspots, with the added benefit of hiding our location: The location advertisers see is wherever the VPN server happens to be based. The days of background location tracking being useful to advertisers may be numbered.

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Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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