back to article Apple: We respect your privacy so much we've revealed a little about what we can track when you use Maps

Apple has released a set of "Mobility Trends Reports" – a trove of anonymised and aggregated data that describes how people have moved around the world in the three months from 13 January to 13 April. The data measures walking, driving and public transport use. And as you'd expect and as depicted in the image atop this story, …

  1. Headley_Grange Silver badge

    Shocking

    People use Apple Maps????????

    1. Stuart Castle Silver badge

      Re: Shocking

      Yes they do. You see Apple did what any reasonably large company releasing a bad product would do when that product was criticised. They spent an awful lot of money improving it. As Google did with Google Maps..

      As such, Apple maps is actually a good product now..

      1. Headley_Grange Silver badge

        Re: Shocking

        @ Stuart -

        I'd love to stop using Google and use Apple Maps, but it is just too limited. Things I can't do with Apple Maps that I can do with Google Maps

        - I can't create custom maps or even a folder (collection) of favourites on the Mac.

        - I can't create collections of favourites on my phone cos it's not supported on iPhone 6

        - in spite of what t'internet says, I can't synch whatever I do on the Mac with my iPhone/iPad.

        - I can't see my favourites on the Mac map - except for one at a time when I search for them.

        - I can't import and export files with Apple Maps.

        - Even if I could create something useful, I can't share it with most of my mates cos most of them haven't got Apple devices.

        If Apple really has spent an awful lot of money improving maps it's not obvious to me what they've done to make it any better than it was in 5 years ago - and it still finds fewer pubs than Google and Bing.

        1. MiguelC Silver badge

          Re: Shocking

          Let's just hope they've stopped sending people to the middle of Australian nowhereness

          1. veti Silver badge
            Facepalm

            Re: Shocking

            That was eight years ago. How many software products are you using that haven't been updated in eight years?

            1. LucreLout Silver badge

              Re: Shocking

              How many software products are you using that haven't been updated in eight years?

              At work? Quite a few....

              There's a hell of a lot of finance still sits atop a 70s mainframe if you look hard enough. There's still more LOB apps that are 15+ years old.

          2. Ian Joyner

            Re: Shocking

            That was about five years ago. You still think that is news?

        2. Tessier-Ashpool

          Re: Shocking

          What a wuss. I hope you aren't tasked with solving IT problems.

          On MacOs, drop a pin and mark it using the favourite icon. It will go into your Favourites collection.

          Pick one of your Favourites in the Map app. It isn't hard to do,

          Click the information icon

          Click the Share button

          Choose Copy Link

          In the URL that is copied to your clipboard, change 'apple' to 'google'. Anyone, including your friends, can open it in a web page.

          For example, here is one of my favourites from a visit to Japan.

          https://maps.google.com/?address=Tokyo%20Tower,%202-8,%20Shibakoen%204-ch%C3%B5me,%20Minato,%20Tokyo,%20Japan%20105-0011&ll=35.658585,139.745418&q=Tokyo%20Tower&_ext=EiQphvbLI0XUQUAx5CBTM9h3YUA5n6gP6FPUQUBBHt9Sudx3YUA%3D

          1. Headley_Grange Silver badge

            Re: Shocking

            @Tessier

            "On MacOs, drop a pin and mark it using the favourite icon. It will go into your Favourites collection."

            Yep - and when I delete it from the search bar it will disappear from the map - no sign on the map that there's one of my favourite places there. It appears to me that I can only see one favourite location at any one time. I find this hard to believe, but I can't find a way to see more than one favourite at a time on the Mac app. This is a pain; e.g. if we're going on a pub crawl I can't show the 8 pubs that we're going to on a single map all at the same time.

            "Pick one of your Favourites in the Map app. It isn't hard to do," - that's my point - I can only do this for *one* favourite at a time in Apple Maps. It's hardly worth sharing the link you've included cos you could have just said "Tokyo Tower, Tokyo" and I'd have got the same thing. In Google my pub crawl maps include all the pubs, the route, timing notes, food stops options, bus stops, tube station, BITE scores, .......all in Google maps, annotated, colour coded and shareable. I can't see any way to do this in Apple maps.

            Search for "Beeston Pub Crawl Map" - It's not one of mine and it's a bit light on detail, but it's the sort of thing that I'm on about and and there doesn't seem to be a way to do anything like it using Apple Maps.

            1. Huw D Silver badge

              Re: "Beeston Pub Crawl Map"

              Never done that as a pub crawl, but have been in every one of those places.

              Stopped going to the Greyhound when it stopped being the Greyhound...

          2. Headley_Grange Silver badge

            Re: Shocking

            @Tessier - sorry, forgot to hat-tip you for the apple-to-google thing with the link. How did you find that out?

      2. Updraft102 Silver badge

        Re: Shocking

        You see Apple did what any reasonably large company releasing a bad product would do when that product was criticised. They spent an awful lot of money improving it.

        Counterpoint: Microsoft and Windows 10.

      3. Phil Endecott Silver badge

        Re: Shocking

        > Apple maps is actually a good product now..

        It still shows half of Edinburgh Old Town as a park.

        And it still shows a B&B next to me that closed 10 years ago.

        Why should I trust it to be accurate anywhere else?

    2. Ian Joyner

      Re: Shocking

      Yes, I use Apple maps. What are you trying to say? I suspect nothing, just cast dispersions on Apple with FUD.

      Furthermore I do not use Google maps for a very good reason – I do not trust Google. And that is based on what it is known Google do.

  2. Financegozu

    The Telcos can provide similar info

    Is being used in Switzerland to assess how well the recommendations are being followed. No need for Apple

    1. NATTtrash Silver badge
      Angel

      Re: The Telcos can provide similar info

      No need for Apple

      I agree. I don't understand those politicians making such a kerfuffle about it. GPS corona app. Bluetooth corona app. Using personal health/ sports tech. Developing a new app from scratch. Can't everybody who wants to participate just get on Grindr? Available immediately for Apple and Android and seems to work very well...

  3. thondwe

    Not New?

    Google uses it's "anonymised" location info to build the traffic layer on it's maps - either that or it's fitted a lot of sheep with traffic cams around here...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not New?

      recently read on this good site that there was a German "artist" that was walking around the city with 99 phones to cause traffic jams

      https://www.theregister.co.uk/2020/02/03/google_maps_hack_cartful_phones/

    2. Amentheist
      Facepalm

      Re: Not New?

      What's the point, how many people/nutters/drug dealers who plan on unnecesary travel will use their phones if they intend to willinglly break the current rules? These reports from Apple and Google are just a few hundred pages of the bleeding obvious. I can look outsde my window and see for myself, the police patrols whos job is literally that and are also on the streets can also see, what value would it add to use "anonymised" data from ISPs or Gapple.

      The only thing this will do is whet the government's appetite to develop a solution that will track forever and always named individuals so they can one day ASAP make it law for "our own good".

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Not New?

        It seems this has now been introduced in Australia. Completely voluntary, but 2 million dolts have downloaded it, trusting ScoMo's guarantee of anonymity. No legal obligation yet.

        My Sony/Sailfish OS phone is looking sweet. My old N9 still works as a phone as well.

    3. Danny Boyd Bronze badge

      Re: Not New?

      Google stole it from Apple, like everything else, no doubt.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Not New?

        Thought I'd heard that Apple was going to sue the Vatican for breach of copyright on the creation story. "And Jobs saw that it was good".

  4. ARGO

    If this worries you...

    ...I suggest you don't look into how Google Traffic gets its data!

    1. Falmor

      Re: If this worries you...

      Seem to recall an iPhone user saying that Apple maps shows moving dots for a car that has a iphone in it. Presumably only if location services are turned on. This was before GDPR so it may have changed now.

      1. Steve Todd

        Re: If this worries you...

        Only those who have chosen to share their location with you personally, and not in real time. It's also only active when someone in your permitted friends list is actively requesting it You can get an idea of where your friends are, but not a precise fix.

        1. BebopWeBop Silver badge

          Re: If this worries you...

          You can get a pretty good one using 'find my friend' (or whatever it is called nowadays. Used that to synch up with friends when meeting and moving.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: If this worries you...

            There was an App for converging friends. I think it was called "Approach"

    2. Keithr0

      Re: If this worries you...

      https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-02-04/man-creates-fake-traffic-jam-on-google-maps-by-carting-99-phones/11929136

  5. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    Week days

    It looks to me like there used to be peaks associated with weekends, but now there are troughs at the weekend. That implies that it is now being used for work related travel more than leisure, which is a good thing.

    Well, kind of. I mean how many people are going to get lost on their way to work, or end up on an airport runway?

    1. Muscleguy Silver badge

      Re: Week days

      Well it would depend, wouldn't it. Maybe public transport is too crowded for social distancing so you brushed the cobwebs from the bike in the shed and got peddling but confused about where the cycle paths are or just had to drive to work instead. We have a friend who would need satnav guidance to do something like that. Me, I have a photographic memory for routes.

      I could probably still do the across North London to Heathrow avoiding the North Circular and joining the motorway only a couple of changes short of the terminals we worked out when we lived down there.

      I've been to my separated wife's new place once but I could drive/bus-walk/cycle/run there no problem. I once got my mother who was visiting down from Dundee to my cousin's rural place near Macclesfield on a remembered map (I was driving so couldn't look).

      But not everyone is like me. Was also astonished that when the kids started to learn to drive it turned out they had paid not the slightest attention to how to get anywhere whilst being driven about all those years.

      1. Anonymous Coward Silver badge

        Re: Week days

        Indeed, I once drove all the way across the country to a rented cottage that we hadn't seen before, purely on intuition. My parents made the same journey at the same time but using sat-nav (we were coming back at different times hence needing both cars).

        I arrived almost 2 hours before them.

        Sat-nav has its uses, but is not always the right solution.

        Anyway, back to the topic... from what I've witnessed, public transport is pretty much empty at the moment. A friend commutes by train (to a hospital) - normally it's standing room only and getting friendly, but the last 2 weeks she has had three whole carriages to herself.

        1. hoola Bronze badge

          Re: Week days

          There appears to be a total reliance on SatNav now with drivers not having the foggiest of where they are going. They don't even know the major towns or road numbers they are on so that when junctions etc. appear you get total morons changing lane without looking, indicating or anything. The fact that people had so quickly just accepted the SatNav is right so quickly is quite terrifying. The outcome where small lanes are being wreaked by HGVs that should never have turned into them and signs are needed saying "Do not follow your SatNav" just demonstrate the levels of stupidity drivers now have.

          I was driving up the M6 to Liverpool and at one point the SatNav indicated I should turn off. It was blatantly the wrong junction so I continued. Coming back later in the day at the same junction it did the same thing.

      2. Updraft102 Silver badge

        Re: Week days

        you brushed the cobwebs from the bike in the shed and got peddling

        If your job is in sales, I suppose.

  6. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

    But the data also shows a little of what Apple is capable of.

    What, counting requests made to direction servers is somehow an unexpected, amazing and worrying capability? Surely this is mundane info for any data service provider, of any data service.

    Where's the needless hyperboly icon?

    1. Stuart Castle Silver badge

      Re: But the data also shows a little of what Apple is capable of.

      I'm surprised people seem surprised they can do this. First, it is perfectly possible to count up requests for destinations without needing to store any personal data

      Second, how do people think the likes of Google, Apple et al get traffic data? Yes, they get it from Traffic master for major roads, but they add that data to the location data transmitted by phones in any jams..

    2. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

      Re: But the data also shows a little of what Apple is capable of.

      It's a complete non-issue. And the headline is juuuuust cynical enough to give the impression that Apple are violating privacy whilst claiming to safeguard it, without actually crossing the line and outright stating it.

      But yes. Nothing here worth a story.

      1. WolfFan Silver badge

        Re: But the data also shows a little of what Apple is capable of.

        Just the normal El Reg hate on Apple, that’s all. Exactly what I have come to expect from El Reg.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If you don't like it...

    Turn the bloody things off (or put them in Flight Mode until you actually need the dammed thing).

    I have hardly used Google Maps and the last time I used the Apple Version was to get to an El Reg lecture in London (being from out in the sticks...)

    Location data is almost always disabled on every app apart from the ones I actually use a lot, such as Zap-Map.

    You can control the data leaving your phone... effing well do it. Make it hard for the likes of Google to track your every movement so that they can sling adverts back at you. This is almost irrelevant to me since I hardly use the web browser on my phone. YMMV naturally.

    1. heyrick Silver badge

      Re: If you don't like it...

      "Location data is almost always disabled on every app"

      Location itself is almost always disabled. It helps battery life...

    2. JetSetJim Silver badge

      Re: If you don't like it...

      You think Google still don't collect location data? They can infer a lot from the WiFi signatures you pick up. There used to be s time when you might occasionally see jumps in your location trace because of someone having moved house but keept their WiFi access point on the same settings - sniff that one and Google would put you near their old address.

      I suspect there's a bunch of info sent back to the Apple and Google motherships all the time

      1. LoPath

        Re: If you don't like it...

        ...not to mention that your phone will still triangulate its location from cell towers when you turn off your GPS. You can actually run Google Maps with GPS turned off... it can be a little wonky, but it tries!

        1. JetSetJim Silver badge

          Re: If you don't like it...

          That's not how it works - I suspect it's Google that's doing the triangulation if Maps is doing anything. Try doing the same experiment in airplane mode (the phone still listens for towers and wifi in this mode) - bet it doesn't work. The towers don't tell the phone where they are, mostly. You might be getting info from an A-GPS system, but they're not present in every network

          1. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

            Re: If you don't like it...

            "That's not how it works - I suspect it's Google that's doing the triangulation if Maps is doing anything. "

            There's no reason why phones can't do reverse triangulation on cell towers - they receive signal strength and other data from cell towers in the area including the Cell IDs of the towers; it's trivial to put this together and come up with a triangulated location from multiple towers. Accuracy won't be great (+/- 1-300m/sq) but certainly enough for rough locations.

  8. BGatez Bronze badge

    My gps, bluetooth etc typically off anyway as they suck the battery dry. How is any of this affected by VPNs?

    1. doublelayer Silver badge

      VPNs: no effect at all. Cell towers and access points happen before the VPN, so if the app can read them, it can use that data to locate you. If you want that not to be possible, you have to add lots of restrictions to what apps are allowed to do. My typical policy is that an app can ask for various permissions and be denied, but if it asks for location and I don't want to give it, that app is evicted with prejudice.

      1. O RLY

        I don't necessarily bin the app that asks for location permission. I DO bin every app that doesn't work without it if location isn't core to the functionality. Google Maps gets permission to my location while I am using the application; any app that has no need for my location, but refuses to run without it gets deleted.

        1. doublelayer Silver badge

          Perhaps I should clarify my policy. An app can ask for location permission and need it to work (E.G. navigation), and I will grant that permission. An app can ask for location for a clearly-identified feature, such as adding geotagging to photographs, and I will deny it, but if it still works, it can stay. If an app asks for location and does not have either of the previous two excuses, including where I don't know why it wants location, then I will decide the app is untrustworthy and I will discard it entirely. It doesn't matter to me if it works without the permission--if it asked for that, it might be doing other things it didn't ask about but I don't trust.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How many times do we need to keep saying this.....

    There is no such thing as "anonymised" data!

    Anyone that claims this is either lying through their teeth or does not understand how todays technology works.

    1. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

      Re: How many times do we need to keep saying this.....

      "Anyone that claims this is either lying through their teeth or does not understand how todays technology works."

      I suspect you might not understand how today's technology works.

  10. Woodnag

    The problem is...

    ...that if Apple collects the data, they can be subpoeana'd for it (1), given a National Security Letter to demand real-time access to it (2), similary court-ordered forced to de-anonomise it (3) under COVID emergency pretense.

    1. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

      Re: The problem is...

      "...that if Apple collects the data, they can be subpoeana'd for it (1), given a National Security Letter to demand real-time access to it (2), similary court-ordered forced to de-anonomise it (3) under COVID emergency pretense."

      If it can be de-anonymised, it's not anonymous in the first place. Hence all the work that Apple have put in to make sure they don't actually HAVE the de-anonymised data, so it can't be subpoena'd.

  11. Ian Joyner

    What the others actually do

    Not just what the others are capable of – what they actually do. Android – you do not actually own the device, the device is for the use of Android vendors to monitor you. With iOS, you own it, Apple says they do not use it in the same way others do – and if they were shown to do so, they could be taken to court and sued.

    And yes, I do believe we should enforce Apple to keep their word on this and not go down the path of Google, Amazon, etc – their intrusion into our lives is pernicious.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I don't trust any of them

    So, I strapped my iPhone to a passing HGV

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This makes no sense

    The data are being collected from maps - software people use to find places they don’t know. So all those trips where they DO know where they’re going aren’t counted. The data are therefore useless for monitoring people’s movements during the crisis as during lockdown they’re Supposed to be only walking locally!

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What a Load of BS

    They exist to sell every iota of data they can glean from your use of their product. They don't really care for what purpose the bought data is used for.

    1. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

      Re: What a Load of BS

      If you’re Google, yes. Apple, not so much.

      1. veti Silver badge

        Re: What a Load of BS

        No, Google doesn't sell information about its users. For the same reason as the army doesn't sell its own guns.

        1. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

          Re: What a Load of BS

          "No, Google doesn't sell information about its users."

          Yes it does.

          "Google monetizes what it observes about people in two major ways:

          1. It uses data to build individual profiles with demographics and interests, then lets advertisers target groups of people based on those traits.

          2. It shares data with advertisers directly and asks them to bid on individual ads."

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