Michael S. Fischer


Dear Apple: Give Us Control Over Stalkerware

December 4th 2016

If you, like me, would like to convince Apple to help us, please send a message to Apple referencing this page via their iPhone feedback form. Apple does listen!

Dear Apple:

I love that you care about our privacy. You fight hard for us when you refuse to hand governments the keys to our phones. You say that enforcing privacy is a civic duty. It’s important to me and to millions of other users. Your stance on privacy protections is one of the many reasons your customers choose Apple products over those of your competitors.

Today, we need your help in a small but important way.

It’s come to light that Uber and other companies have begun tracking our locations in more circumstances than ever. We’ve always relied on their apps to use our location — to do helpful things like find us a fast and convenient way to get where we want to go.

But this time, they’ve gone too far. They’re now insisting that we provide them our location, when we don’t need them to, or don’t want them to, to use their services.

Specifically, anyone who installed or upgraded the Uber app in the past few weeks and enabled them to view their location is now giving their location to Uber all the time (unless they subsequently manually disabled their access to their location). Uber can now track us whenever they like — even if we have no intent to use their service anytime soon, or haven’t used their app in months.

And most users don’t even know Uber and others have this ability. It’s creepy and it’s unnecessary, and makes us unsafe.

There’s a word for software that insists they know where you are all the time: Stalkerware.

How have Uber and others developed such stalkerware? Through one small loophole, and one that can easily be remedied by Apple.

As you know, iOS allows users to control how apps can access the user’s location. There are three choices: “Always,” “When using the app,” or “Never.” These are reasonable options. Some users might never want an app to have access to their location. Others might have a strong trust relationship with the app and its authors and allow the app always to track them.

Most of us, though, fall into the middle camp: We want to allow apps to use our location for the purpose of providing a service, but want to control our privacy when the app or its authors cease doing business with us. So what we’re asking is simple:

Don’t allow app developers to disable the “when using the app” Location privacy option.

It’s simply unnecessary for Uber or others to track us when the app isn’t in use. How do we know this? Because these apps worked adequately before they disabled this option. We were able to meet our drivers by opening the app, finding our location, and hailing a driver. We gave them enough information to get the job done, and we were satisfied with the results.

Uber argues that they want to use more location data to improve the user experience — for example, to track a rider’s location between the time the driver was summoned and the time the rider was picked up, even if the rider closed the app. That may be so. But that doesn’t mean I or anyone else should be forced to give up my location to them, at their whim.

So, Apple, we ask you: Help us keep our privacy and safety. If app developers want to know our location, they can ask us. But we should have the right to give Uber and others our location only when they truly need it — and the mechanism for doing so already exists. We shouldn’t have to flip a switch to enable our location so we can use it, then flip the switch back to get our privacy back.

Thank you for your help.

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