Don't panic over iOS location logging

Call it what you will—a foofaraw, a kerfuffle, an uproar, a donnybrook, a, um, shawshank (that’s a thing, right?)—but the has spread faster than a YouTube video of a cat playing the trombone. It’s on the mainstream news; ; heck, I even overheard two elderly gentlemen and an older woman discussing it in the café I frequent.

Given all the excitement, I know what you’re thinking: should you totally panic that all your movements have been recorded? Or should you only panic maybe just a little bit—say, a smidge of panic? I mean, exactly how much duct tape and plastic sheeting should you be buying, really?

Allow me to go one better: don’t panic at all. Yes, the fact that Apple’s logging this location data is, if I may be so bold, . The company should absolutely clarify why the data’s there and explain what they’re going to change in the future to make sure that this information isn’t easily accessible. We’ve reached out to Apple, but the company has not to date returned our requests for comment.

But, that said, the end times are not nigh, the sky is not falling, Big Brother is not peering at you through your screen, and Sting is not personally watching every step you take. That’s not to say there aren’t concerns, but it’s worth it to pause a moment and understand what is—and isn’t—going on here.

While the information is being collected on your iOS device, there’s no indication from any source that the data is being sent from your iPhone and your Mac to anybody. Not to Apple, not to your wireless carrier, not to the government, not to your mom. It’s on your iPhone and your computer—that’s it.

The information being gathered seems to be the result of triangulating with cell towers (though, as I wrote in the original news story, there does seem to be some log of Wi-Fi location data as well). The precision of cell phone location is lower than that of GPS, so while it is generally accurate, it can often be off by a fair amount, especially in less densely populated areas. In other words, if you live out in a remote off-the-grid cabin because you’re worried about government agents following you, don’t sweat it.