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Turned off your location? Your iPhone still knows where you’ve been

Are you worried about location sharing? You may need to do more than avoiding location hashtags, or checking in on social media; your iPhone is tracking your location using Apple’s ‘Significant Locations’ feature.

What is location sharing?

Location sharing is the ability to share your location with another person via smartphone. This can be really useful if you’re wanting to make sure a friend has got home safe, or you’re waiting to see when your parcel arrives. 

However, location sharing can be a sticking point for some people, who don’t want their movements tracked by their smartphone. Even if you aren’t consciously sharing your location with anyone, that doesn’t mean your phone isn’t collecting that information.

What are Significant Locations?

Significant Locations is Apple’s own form of location tracking, and it's a feature that has persisted through numerous versions of iOS. The feature tracks and saves the locations that you’re most often in; so this is likely to include your home, your work, anywhere you’re routinely catching public transport or dropping children off, as well as friends and families houses. 

Apple states that the function of the Significant Locations feature for users is to ‘allow your iPhone to learn places significant to you in order to provide useful location-related information in Maps, Calendar, Photos and more.’ You might have noticed this feature when you’ve been using Apple Maps, and your iPhone predicts where you’re going.

Apple states that ‘Significant Locations are encrypted and cannot be read by Apple’, and the main functionality is just to personalise these applications and create a more intuitive experience for the user; instead of typing your home address in, your iPhone already knows where it is, and how long it is going to take you to get there.

Is this a useful feature?

This really depends on whether you’re routinely using Apple’s Maps, Calendar and Photos, and are also benefiting from your iPhone having a good guess about what you’re up to and where you’re heading to next. If you do enjoy Calendar predicting where you’re going to be at a certain time, or letting you know where your Photos were taken, then this feature might be a useful one to you.

The other main benefit of Significant Locations is that it works alongside the Optimised Battery Charging feature. This is a clever little feature from Apple which aims to reduce battery aging by learning from your charging routine. Your iPhone can wait to finish charging past 80% until you need to use it, which is a great way of preventing your iPhone battery from wearing out. 

Apple has stated that the Significant Locations is feeding back to the Optimised Battery Charging, so that this feature only engages where you spend the most time, such as home or work, and not when you’re travelling, when you might need to charge your iPhone quickly. 

So should I turn it off?

Although features like this can look scary at first, when the information isn’t shared with Apple, the feature is usually for your benefit rather than theirs. You can always try turning it off, but be aware that some of the services you might be used to will stop working.

If you want to check out this feature, head to Settings > Privacy > Location Services > Systems Services > Significant Locations. You’ll need to enter your passcode, or use Face ID or Touch ID to access this page.

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