Limit location tracking on the iPhone with fuzzy locations

Take control of location settings in iOS on the iPhone

iPhone showing your location in the Maps app

Your iPhone can precisely track your location and report to apps exactly where you are. You can disable location tracking, but it’s useful in some apps, so make your location fuzzy instead.

Fuzzy locations? Yes! Location information was once a binary option, on or off and there was no in between. However, recent iPhones with at least with iOS 14 can make your location imprecise or fuzzy.

Instead of reporting exactly where you are to within a few yards or metres, the iPhone can report roughly where you are. Instead of saying which street and even which building, office or house you are in, it can just report the general area, such as the town or city.

Some apps, like Maps, need to know exactly where you are so that they can show the streets, offices, shops, places of interest and other things around you. They need to know your precise location so they can show directions from where you are to where you want to be. Maps and some other apps require exact location information.

Some apps may not need to know your exact location and simply knowing which town or city you are in, or even just which country you are in, is enough for them. They may set language options, currency, distances, weights and so on, depending on your location. In the UK, temperature is always shown in degrees Celsius, whereas in the US it is in Fahrenheit.

Knowing your approximate location is sufficient for some apps, so why give them your exact location, even your home address, when they do not need it? Providing a fuzzy and imprecise location is sufficient for some apps and this increases your privacy without limiting the function of the app.

Location tracking on the iPhone has more features than you might realize. Let’s look at them.

Enable/disable location services

iOS location services on the iPhone

Go to Settings > Privacy > Location Services and use the master switch at the top to allow or stop your location from being tracked and reported to apps.

Customize location services for apps

That on/off switch is a bit too extreme and some apps will not work properly without knowing your location. Maps is an example. Enable location services, but use the list of apps below to customize what each app can access.

iOS location services on the iPhone

Tap an app like Voice Memos and there are options to Never allow location access, Ask Next Time (which really means ask every time), and While Using the App.

You don’t want apps constantly monitoring your location and reporting it back to who know where on the internet, so While Using the App is a good option for most apps. They will only know where you are if you are actually using the app, not when it is running in the background.

Precise or fuzzy location

There is a Precise Location switch here and while some apps, like Maps, need to know exactly where you are, many apps do not. What about Voice Memos? This is an interesting example of how location information changes the app.

If Precise Location is enabled, whenever you create a new voice memo, the app automatically names it with your exact location, like 123 High Street, Birmingham.

If Precise Location is disabled, whenever you create a new voice memo, the app automatically names it with your approximate location, like Birmingham. It does not know where exactly you are, just the town or area.

By turning off Precise Location for apps that do not need it, you increase your privacy. In this case, it is an Apple app and Apple is very focused on privacy right now, but this setting is available for all apps on your iPhone. Some others might not be so careful with your location data, so giving them a rough location instead of an exact one better protects your privacy.

Location information in Widgets

iOS location services on the iPhone

Widgets on the home screen are automatically refreshed at regular intervals so that they show the latest information and this raises the possibility of apps constantly monitoring your location through a widget.

Some widgets may need to know your location, like the Weather app, but some may not. There are settings to deal with this.

Open the Weather app in Location Services and there is an extra location option, While Using the App or Widgets. This enables you to choose whether a widget has access to location information, which can be precise or not, using the switch.

It is useful to allow the Weather widget to know your location, but you may want to prevent other widgets from knowing it. It is up to you.

Get location alerts

Are apps accessing your location without your knowledge? There is a way to find out. Go to Settings > Privacy > Location Services > Location Alerts and turn on the switch. You will see a message on the screen when an app accesses your location.

Share your location

You might want to share your location with family or friends and this can be useful. For example, you can use Messages to send your location to someone. Go to Settings > Privacy > Location Services > Share My Location and turn on the switch.

iOS location services on the iPhone

Also here is Find My iPhone. This has several options and if you lose your iPhone or have it stolen, you can find it using a Mac, iPad or another iPhone. Turn on this service.

iOS location services on the iPhone

You can even get the iPhone to send its location just before the battery dies with Send Last Location.

More location settings

Go to Settings > Calendar and down at the bottom is Location Suggestions. Do you want Calendar to suggest things based on your location? It is up to you, but it could be useful.

Go to Settings > Voice Memos and there is a switch for Location-Based Naming. By default, this is on and each new voice memo title is based on your location. As we saw earlier, it can be precise or imprecise.

Open Settings > Maps and there is an option to Show Parked Location. If you are in an unfamiliar city, it can be useful for Maps to place a pin where you parked your car. It can often do this automatically, detecting when you park and placing the pin.

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