Finally, two days after Krebs published his article and more than half a day after the company declined to comment, they gave a real answer. It turns out that newer iPhones have a new short-range wireless technology to allow iPhone 11 users to share files with nearby phones that also support this feature. It can be compared with another similar wireless technology—the Bluetooth.
Apple explained that the tech is subject to international regulatory requirements which require it to be turned off in certain locations. This means that the tech needs to keep pinging your location to make sure you’re not in one of those restricted locations, but the information never leaves your phone.
This explanation sounds reasonable enough, but it’s unclear why Apple didn’t say all of this in the first place. They could have easily squashed the rumours with a simple explanation before things got out of hand.
Soon after this whole fiasco, Apple promised to roll out a fix for this problem with the launch of iOS 13.3. Now, this is confusing to me because first of all, they claimed that they had to “follow international regulatory requirements” and now they’re saying that we can disregard those same regulations and disable the location checks with an update. Which means they didn’t need to include it in the first place!
And to top it all off—they failed to include the fix in the new iOS!
All of this could not have come at a worse time for Apple, especially as it’s just a few months after they admitted to hiring contractors who silently listened to Siri audio snippets recorded by iPhone owners. (Shaadyy!)
Needless to say, this will raise a lot of suspicion from people who are already protective of their privacy. Although the company’s own privacy page states that they believe “privacy is a fundamental human right”, their actions say otherwise.