I just read that my iPhone is now sharing my precise location whenever I post to Instagram. No thanks! How can I disable this scary privacy invasion feature??
You are correct that every time you post a photo to Instagram from your phone that your exact location, uh, sorry, “precise location”, is being shared with the service too. It’s always been that way, however, and suddenly everyone’s concerned, but your iPhone – and Android phone – have been sharing your precise location for years. Instagram, Facebook, Maps, DoorDash, Uber, they all receive as exact and precise a location as your phone can calculate every time you use the apps. What’s changed is that Apple now lets you decide if you want to share a precise location or an approximate location. When did that show up? When iOS 14 was released back in 2020. Why is it suddenly causing a furor? Social media. Someone bumped into the setting two years later, got alarmed, and posted about it.
Mobile phones work because they can figure out your location, which is essential for connecting to the right cell towers and offering service. All of the location-based apps, utilities, and games utilize this same feature, and you can imagine that Pokemon Go wouldn’t be very fun if it only knew your location within a mile or two. What iOS offers is the ability to disable this feature, which is nonetheless really useful. You can also choose on a per-app basis, so Apple Maps might get your precise location so you get the best possible directions, while Instagram and SnapChat might be set to only get your approximate location. Smart.
Apps that can work just fine with an approximate location include a TV streaming service and a weather app; odds are good that the weather a few blocks away isn’t substantially different to your current location. iOS is smart about it too, and when Precise Location is disabled, Location Services will “expose circular regions that are a few miles in diameter. The region data will only be recomputed a few times per hour, so exact tracking is not possible. The user’s true location will be somewhere inside the circular region, but not necessarily in the center.” [9to5mac]
IS LOCATION SERVICES SHARING YOUR PRECISE LOCATION?
Let’s jump onto an iPhone and have a look at the settings for Instagram. You can’t do that from within the Instagram app, however, you need to go to the Settings app on the phone and swipe down to find “Instagram” on the list of apps:
See it, the third entry down? A tap on it and all the iOS settings are shown:
I’ve given Instagram permission for everything, from using cellular data to accessing my microphone and camera. For this task, it’s Location that’s important. A tap on “Location” reveals the settings:
Since I have it enabled – the first value isn’t “Never” – I have the choice of allowing the app to receive my precise location from the phone when asked, or not. If I have Location Access set to Never, by contrast, here’s what I see:
No “Precise Location”. Prefer to have that vague within-a-mile location information shared? Leave Location Access enabled, but turn off Precise Location. Solved.
REVIEWING LOCATION ACCESS ACROSS APPS
There’s another way to review location access information across apps on your iPhone too. Instead of swiping down to the list of all apps on your phone in Settings, look for “Privacy” instead:
See it near the bottom? A tap on “Privacy” and you’ll see lots of settings and preferences you should examine:
Again, for this task, let’s stay focused on location information, so tap on “Location Services“, and a whole world of apps that want access to this particular information shows up:
You can see at the bottom all the different settings as associated with different apps. Why does Apple Watch Faces need location information? That’s a good question. The AMC Theaters app makes sense, though, since it has a “theaters near me” feature that relies on knowing your location. That would likely work with imprecise – non-precise location – information though.
See any apps that you don’t think should have access to this information? No worries, disable it. If I go down to Facebook, for example, it shows all the Location Services access I’ve granted:
Does Facebook need my precise location when I post? No, approximate should be sufficient. And now you know where to change it!
In summary, there’s no conspiracy here, no alarming new feature that overshares your location. If anything, it’s the opposite: Your iPhone has always shared your precise location with apps and now – as of iOS 14 – you can change that to sharing an approximate location. Now ya know.
Thanks to my pal Burton Kelso of Integral Computer Services of Kansas City for bringing the current kerfuffle about precise location sharing to my attention.
Pro Tip: I’ve been writing about the iPhone and iOS since the very first iPhone was released. I’ve also owned every major iPhone model! Please check out my iPhone help articles while you’re visiting. Thanks!