Apple is in the news this time due to a newfound disturbance or privacy issue. And, the company claims its latest high-tech features are too high-tech. This is called “ultra wideband” tech which is built into the new iPhone 11 models for superior performance and thus resulted in the above problems. What can you do about it? That is the question.
This is a rather peculiar issue because it manages to interfere, if you believe, with the performance vs. privacy issues. If you wish to have your iPhone perform better with ultra-wideband technology, referring to receiving signals, then the access to location without permission can be a roadblock. This unsettling issue had been surfacing online when people started posting concerns and talking about it in different online forums. The issue is particularly with iPhone 11 models and iPhone 11 Pro models only. They incorporate a location tracking thing and this somehow leads to a loophole.
To bring it to context, security experts Brian Krebs brought this to the limelight earlier this week that the latest iPhones request user data even when a user has toggled it off in their privacy settings. And, as per the latest reports obtained by TechCrunch, Apple has agreed to this mishap and has blamed it not on itself, for obvious reasons, but on the new ultra-wideband tech. And, it has agreed to fetch a solution for the problem and ensure that its users can rest assured. In a future update, the company will provide a way to disable this.
What is the “New Ultra-Wide Band” Technology?
Apple has always been at the forefront of pushing new technologies but in a different manner. On one hand, it waits for years for other companies to test their models, and only accepts a tech when it is completely ripe and proven. On the other hand, it uses something out of the ordinary and gets into problems. Whether it is the super-thin design with iPad Pro, leading to easy bending and breaking of the entire structure or the famous “antenna gate” issue. Today’s issue brings us back to some of its core policies – privacy.
Why is this tech asking to share location iPhone even if the toggle is off? And, if Apple knew this, why didn’t it remedy this before? There are several questions. But, before we jump to conclusions, let us try to understand what this technology is and what it does?
It happens so that that, the “new” ultra-wide band tech had been one of the previous kinds of tech. It was well ripe and implemented by other market players’ years before Apple used it in the iPhone 11 model. So, Apple was happy to introduce it to its customers. But, it couldn’t do it without a bug, and this loophole emerged in the security study by Krebs. So, ultra-wideband tech offers a new band of signal reception, which is an industry-standard and is subjected to international regulatory requirements that require it to be turned off in certain specific locations. Now, this means that the device you’re using has to know which location the user is in, so that it can comply with the above regulatory requirement. Sounds legitimate? Right? And, that was something users didn’t know, and maybe most users are not bothered after all.
However, security experts brought this issue up to confront Apple with yet another hidden feature that it never discussed with the public. Thus, this created news almost instantly taking the company accountable and asking for comments. IOS uses the user’s location, despite the fact that they have turned it off to figure out if they are in any of those prohibited locations, and then they need to disable the ultra-wide band tech to comply with the regulations. As an iPhone user, are you happy with the location sharing issue? I guess a majority of people agree that there is nothing that can be done here. So, even if Apple chooses not to mention this, there is a solid reason behind it, the reasons being sure enough to make things come to harmony.
Further, the management of ultra-wideband compliance and its user data is done entirely on Apple’s device, so users need not worry about the privacy issue here. Apple explained its efforts were the best possible to ensure this never poses any problem. And, it also made sure that Apple is not collecting any information unlike Facebook or Google, so its users are always at the priority when designing any of the products. Thus, iPhone 7 users who have been left behind felt kind of insecure because they cannot use this new ultra-wideband. Such a pity!! But, there is always hope in the dimness of the light. You can always upgrade your age-old model to the new iPhone 11. It has all the latest features, the famous “notch” and ultra-wideband.
The Introduction of iPhone 11 in 2019
iPhone 11 was a major step forward in the direction of notched phones from Apple. It will and always will be an icon. This is what pushed all players in the market to adopt the notch design, and there was a flurry of companies who started doing it off the bat. Even the most unknown of the brands simply copied it, imported the notched displays and pushed models that looked like the iPhone 10. This was the pioneer of a new design that will stay forever. The iPhone 11 was launched in September this year, as the successor of the 10th gen iPhone. And, this year was all for privacy. It made tracking users more precise, with the accuracy of feet in a room, rather than several meters. It allows you to navigate streets and corners, and blocks in a neighborhood to reach your destination. It also allows finding your iPhone if it has been stolen.
Apple also introduced its new U1 chip in the phone and its Pro variant that could do localized communication with other U1 devices in a premise nearby. This allows them to bounce signals within each other rather than cell towers and satellites. You can imagine it as a GPS at the scale of your living room. This has enormous potential and also security features. Imagine being able to track down an iPhone with the precision of a living room? This has enormous potential in many cases. But, for productivity, as Apple has described it, it allows you to use AirDrop by just pointing your iPhone towards another and they will be first on the list. Since it is done via U1 chips, it is ultra-secure, even more than traditional Bluetooth.
How better is it? According to Apple, it is effectively better than Bluetooth, and it’s the foundation of some of the new features on iOS, such as this location-dependent AirDrop. Then, the U1 chip also enables Apple tags, a tile-like device for finding lost objects which is reportedly coming soon to the markets. Apple has made it really useful and managed to bring down location tracking to such a small scale that users can do lots of cool stuff with it.
What is the Concern of Security Experts?
The security experts like Krebs are concerned that even with all the apps individually disabled for location sharing, individually, they still access user location without their permission. Although Apple is not a certified device for security agents or mission-critical operations, this might be of concern to some. And, in an effort to make this new public, the security expert posted this issue online. So, according to Krebs, even if the user has explicitly set all its apps or a certain app in someone’s case who doesn’t want them to be stalked, the iPhone disregards it for the sake of high-tech features, such as ultra-wideband. Is there a way to disable it?
It turns out that they have tried different methods. One way to disable this particular “feature” is to turn off global location access services in the device settings. This is supposed to stop collecting any kind of user location whatsoever. However, if you did that for your individual apps, this will still allow access. The location arrow will occasionally pop up in the corner of the screen, indicating that some form of the data request is going on.
Krebs initially found this in November. After coming across this discrepancy and with the intention of reporting this to Apple as a bug, it found out that this was already known in their dept. DND was a feature. It was really curious about the security expert and the tech giant responded with the letter. It said that the company does not see any concerns here and was performing as it was designed to perform. AN Apple engineer wrote that they do not see any security concerns here. “It is expected behavior that the Location Services icon appears in the status bar when Location Services is enabled”. Also, adding that the icon will appear for all system services that do not have a switch in the settings.
He then followed it up with more questions than switching them off still demands access to the location services and more. But, Apple has not yet responded to those questions. Do some questions involve whether explicitly disabling this for apps still meant they could send user data? Therefore, TechCrunch reached out to Apple regarding this matter, and to make things clear, they have agreed that this is due to its “ultra-wideband U1 chip” which is a pioneering feature only Apple has to date. Although it was not immediately clear by what it meant by complying with international regulatory requirements, it has assured that Apple is not collecting any information or storing it secretly anywhere. And, this check is happening on the device only.
The Issue of Privacy and its Predicament in the Future
The issue of privacy and being able to track a user through all its day, to the precision of their footsteps might sound scary, but this has been the director of technology for the past decade. When these devices have exact user locations, sharing this information with various system services allows for your apps to work, your productivity apps to function, and enables you to reach your destination. As Google Maps is an essential part of our lives today and we cannot even imagine doing without it, this would not be possible without precise tracking of user location.
Further, tracking user location is important because it allows one to know where you’re exactly. This has security concerns too. It is being implemented by cops for search and rescue, and more. The issue of privacy and not sharing user data for making a profit or malicious activities is the one that is on everyone’s mind. All this data is usually collected and stored in servers and later used for providing personalized services. However, if the user demands that the app should not collect the data explicitly, should tech giants make it increasingly technical and blatantly hide the fact that their toggle switch didn’t work? Is it ok that even though the user thinks their app is not collecting data and trusts on the toggle switch is switched off; the device is still recording it and using it? In this case, as a security expert found out the U1 chip does it to maintain some “international regulatory requirements”. Though, it didn’t make it clear or make an effort to explain to the public and make them aware of it.
Who knows what more services and hidden backdoors have been implemented in place in the name of high-tech features? DO they assist in productivity or harm an individual and takes off their trust? This is the way the future is going, and today not just devices, but individual apps on your devices know everything about you, where you go and where you are right now? The future of privacy seems a little complicated now, but as governments confront this issue more and more, policies can help us better.