Are Apple’s iOS 7 privacy settings purposefully misleading, or just a mess?

china iphone location tracking threat ios 7 privacy settings frequent locations 2

After spending a good two weeks with iOS 7, I can say without hesitation that Apple’s new mobile operating system is a vast improvement over previous iterations. The Camera app is great. Control Center is great. The new Mail functions are great. On and on – great, great, great. But when it comes to protecting your privacy, the entire setup is the same bloody mess it was in all previous versions of iOS. This needs to change.

The heart of this problem lies in the structure of iOS 7’s Settings navigation, as well as the unhelpful – some might say misleading – terminology used to describe certain key settings.

As it turns out, the hidden System Services menu is quite an important one for protecting your privacy.

Take the new Frequent Locations feature, for example. As explained in the iOS 7 Settings, Frequent Locations allows your iPhone “to learn places you frequently visit in order to provide useful location-related information.”

In real-world terms, this just means that, with Frequent Locations turned on (which it is, by default), your iPhone is tracking everywhere you go and storing that information in an easily readable format. Unless you suffer from a degenerative memory disorder, this feature isn’t as much to help you as it is to serve up various types of advertisements and other services that you may or may not want. And, as some iOS 7 beta users pointed out earlier this year, the results of having this “feature” turned on can be, at the very least, a bit creepy.

So, how do you turn it off? For that, you’re going to have to dig deep into the settings menu. To be specific, Settings > Privacy > Location Services > scroll all the way down to the bottom > System Services (an utterly unhelpful description that I would never have clicked without learning that I needed to) > scroll to the bottom again > Frequent Locations > switch the option to off.

ios 7 privacy settings frequent locations system servicesGot all that? No? Me neither ­– I had to look at my phone while typing that out just to make sure I didn’t miss a step. 

As it turns out, the hidden System Services menu is quite an important one for protecting your privacy. Mixed in with a few other options, like Cell Network Search and Compass Calibration, you’ll find three other innocuous-sounding options that any privacy-conscious user most certainly wants to set.

The first is Diagnostics & Usage, which sends a slew of information about your iPhone or iPad to Apple. Optimists will tell you that this is just for reporting errors and bugs that pop up. But really, we don’t exactly know what data Apple gets by having this turned on. And besides, enabling it is a great way to help drain your battery – so I’d turn that one off, too.

The second option is Location-Based iAds – and I’m guessing I don’t have to explain what that one means. Apple says this option is meant to provide you with the “best advertising experience,” which is corporate code for “our system is watching you, and trying to get you to buy stuff based on what we know about where you go and what you do.” If you don’t find the notion of your expensive device being used to sell you stuff offensive, by all means, leave this option set to on. Otherwise, disable it. 

Finally, at the very bottom of the System Services screen, sits the Status Bar Icon option. The Status Bar Icon uses color codes to tell you how and when particular apps are using your location data. It’s a helpful feature, and good for helping you keep track of your privacy – too bad it’s set to off by default.

Most users wouldn’t have a clue as to which options to turn on and off without actively looking for professional advice.

One could argue that having all of these features under one setting page is actually quite helpful. My problem with that assessment is two-fold. One, most users would never know to go into the System Services menu without being told to do so – meaning this page is all but hidden. And two, most users wouldn’t have a clue as to which options to turn on and off without actively looking for professional advice.

Furthermore, this is just one page. To really protect privacy, iOS 7 users need to sift through a variety of other menus to get everything properly locked down. Don’t Safari to track where you go on the Web? Click Settings > Safar > set Do Not Track to on (green). While you’re there, set the Block Cookies option to Always. Want to prevent advertising tracking even further? Go to Settings > Privacy > scroll to bottom > Advertising > set Limit Ad Tracking to on. And if you really want to protect your privacy, you’re going to have to sort out the settings of virtually every app you download, which are often spread out over a number of menus, from Location Services to Microphone.

At best, this settings system makes it extremely cumbersome for users who want to be prudent with their data. At worst, the whole thing makes me feel like I’m being purposefully confused.

At the end of the day, I understand that UI design is impossible to perfect. And for the most part, I’m quite pleased with the way iOS 7 looks and functions. But if Apple wants to bolster its users trust, it could at the very least provide a detailed walk-through guide of every setting’s location and what each setting does. Better yet, set the most revealing options to off by default. Now, that’s what I’d call user-friendly design.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

Product Review

The iPad Pro is the best tablet ever. But don't sell your laptop just yet

Apple has unveiled a big redesign for the iPad Pro, slimming down the bezels, adding Face ID, and the ability to attach and charge the Apple Pencil. All of this comes at a high cost however, as the iPad Pro starts at $799.

Apple's iOS 12.1.1 makes it easier to switch cameras in FaceTime

After months of betas, the final version of iOS 12 is here to download. The latest OS comes along with tons of new capabilities, from grouped notifications to Siri Shortcuts. Here are all the features you'll find in iOS 12.

Itching to fight in an online match with friends in 'SSB Ultimate'? Here's how

You can play online against your friends in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, but it isn't quite as simple as you might expect from a multiplayer game in 2018. Here's how you can do so using the Battle Arena system.

Worried about your online privacy? We tested the best VPN services

Browsing the web can be less secure than most users would hope. If that concerns you, a virtual private network — aka a VPN — is a decent solution. Check out a few of the best VPN services on the market.

Give your eyes a break with these handy blue light filters

Filtering blue light from your monitor is a great way to make long days of work easier on your eyes, especially when it gets later in the day. You can use ones built into MacOS and Windows, or one of the third-party options.

Pick up a pair of Apple AirPods alternatives for less than $50

Apple AirPods are some of the most sought-after wireless earbuds, but they certainly aren't cheap. Luckily, Walmart and Amazon both have some great Apple AirPod alternatives for sale, and you can still get them before Christmas.

Patent highlights Apple's sky-high ambitions for AirPower wireless charger

At its September event last year, Apple unveiled the AirPower -- its new wireless charging mat that will allow you to charge multiple devices at one time. It has not yet been released. Here's everything we know about the device so far.

Snatch Apple’s 2017 15-inch MacBook Pro for up to $1,200 off at B&H

The latest deal at B&H is offering up 2017 15-inch Apple MacBook Pros, in space gray and silver, with Intel Core i7 quad-core CPUs, 16GB of RAM, and AMD Radeon Pro 560 GPUs with up to 2TB of SSD storage.

Apple Mac users should take a bite out of these awesome games

Contrary to popular belief, there exists a bevy of popular A-list games compatible for Mac computers. Take a look at our picks for the best Mac games available for Apple fans.

Apple iPad Pro 11 vs. Samsung Galaxy Tab S4: Which top-tier tablet reigns supreme?

If you're in the market for a new tablet and you want something that can double up as a laptop in a pinch, then you owe it to yourself to check out the 11-inch Apple iPad Pro and the Samsung Galaxy Tab S4. We compare the two here.

Chinese court upholds Qualcomm's complaint that Apple infringed on two patents

Apple is following the FTC's lead and has sued Qualcomm for a massive $1 billion in the U.S., $145 million in China, and also in the U.K., claiming the company charged onerous royalties for its patented tech.

5G’s arrival is transforming tech. Here’s everything you need to know to keep up

It has been years in the making, but 5G is finally becoming a reality. While 5G coverage is still extremely limited, expect to see it expand in 2019. Not sure what 5G even is? Here's everything you need to know.

Need a last-minute gift? Get an iPhone Wireless Charger for under $20

Whether you're looking for stocking stuffers or gift ideas, these deals from Mophie, Anker, and Yootech can get you a wireless charging pad for cheap. Don't settle for wired charging if you don't have to.

Looking for an Apple MacBook below $900? Woot has you covered

If you're looking for a great deal on an Apple MacBook, then Amazon's Woot may just have what you have been seeking. It has Macbooks available for only $810 with Intel M3 CPUs, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB SSDs.