Facebook says location data in iOS 13, Android 10 may be confusing

On Monday, Facebook gave users a heads-up about changes coming in Android and iOS updates and how they let you see and manage your location data, how apps track you, and how Facebook’s use of your location data fits into all of it.

The post explains how Facebook’s app collects and uses background location data from smartphones: “background,” as in, when you’re not actually using the app.

You can see why Facebook might want to get its location data story out there now, in front of Apple’s release of iOS 13, which is expected in just a few days, on 19 September. (Android 10 was already publicly released – at least for Pixel devices – on 3 September.)

Facebook’s is, after all, one of the apps whose snail-slime trails of users’ location data iOS 13 is going to depict in maps.

From Facebook’s newsroom post:

If you are using iOS 13, you will begin to receive notifications about when an app is using your precise location in the background and how many times an app has accessed that information. The notification will also include a map of the location data an app has received and an explanation why the app uses that type of location information.

Apple announced the background location feature in June.

Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, said at the time that sharing your location data with a third-party app can “really enable some useful experiences,” but that “we don’t expect to have that privilege used to track us.”

iOS 13 will show users a map of where apps have been tracking you when requesting permission

The notifications show a map of the specific location data a given app has tracked, displaying the snail-slime trails that we all leave behind in our daily travels and which so many apps are eager to sniff at for marketing purposes.

Or for other reasons, as well. Besides the map, the popups will also provide the app’s rationale for needing access to a user’s background location.

iOS 13 will also offer users the option to give apps access to location “just once,” instead of continuous background access or the constant access an app wants when in use. Previously, iPhone users were only given the options of providing that data when the app is in use, never, or always.

At Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference 2019 in June, Federighi said that iOS 13 will also give users reports on what apps are up to if you do choose to grant them the ability to continually monitor your location in the background.

Android 10 might confuse you

Google’s Android 10 also ushered in a slew of privacy and security improvements designed to keep Android users a little safer. But some of the new options might confuse users, Facebook suggested.

As we reported last month, one of the significant privacy enhancements is control over how an app accesses a phone’s location. A new dialog lets users choose whether apps can access location at all times, or only when running in the foreground.

Android 10 also addresses apps that snoop on location data using other means, including by looking at Wi-Fi access points or checking folders for location data left by other apps. Android 10 requires specific fine location permissions for apps accessing selected Wi-Fi, telephony, and Bluetooth functions. It also has a new feature called scoped storage, which restricts an app’s access to files on external storage, only giving it access to its specific directory and media types.

Facebook said in its post that previously, Android offered an on/off switch for controlling an app’s access to your device’s precise location information. Facebook noted that earlier in the year, it introduced the ability to block Facebook’s background location tracking on Android – a move it made days after a report that it uses location data to monitor interns and other people the company deemed to be a “credible threat.”

With Android 10, users will have the option to allow individual apps to access their precise location, either while they’re using the app or in the background. Facebook said that this could give rise to instances of your Facebook privacy settings being out of sync with your Android 10 setting:

We understand that this may be confusing if you’re already using Facebook’s background location setting, and this update may cause a few instances where the Android and Facebook location settings will be out of sync.

Facebook’s fix: it’s going to respect whatever users’ most restrictive settings are.

For example, if your device location setting is set to “all of the time,” but your Facebook background location setting is off, we won’t collect your precise location information when you’re not using the Facebook app.

Facebook says it’s also going to phase out the Facebook background location setting on Android 10, by reminding people to check their device’s location settings, “to make sure what they’ve chosen is right for them.”

You’re in the driver’s seat

Make no mistake: Facebook thinks it’s better with location data:

It powers features like check-ins and makes planning events easier. It helps improve ads and keep you and the Facebook community safe. Features like Find Wi-Fi and Nearby Friends use precise location even when you’re not using the app to make sure that alerts and tools are accurate and personalized for you.

Having said that, Facebook emphasizes that “privacy matters” and that how much we share is up to each of us users.

You’re in control of who sees your location on Facebook. You can control whether your device shares precise location information with Facebook via Location Services, a setting on your phone or tablet.

At any rate, Facebook says it’s still potentially going to be able to suss out our location by using things like check-ins, events and information about our internet connections. It’s bringing us new ways to control how and when we share our location data, it says, and that means new features to “help you explore the world around you,” including breaking local news alerts and a new map in the Events tab, to “help you find things to do with friends nearby.”