The arrow by the time on your iPhone can mean a few different things. It could be a solid icon that means an app is using your location or it might be outlined in blue that indicates an app has recently used your location.
Thankfully, Apple lets you manage Location Services on an individual app basis. Understanding the different arrow icons can help you keep your privacy protected.
Apps Accessing Your Location
Almost every app on your phone needs to have access to your location in order to work. Some apps do so in the foreground — when you use them — while others access your location in the background, even when they’re not running.
Most of the time, this is a good thing. It helps make apps more functional and gives you a better overall experience. However, it’s also important to understand how these apps access your location.
Many of the apps on your phone rely on your location to help you navigate your world, get directions, or find your favorite stores. Some even ask you to grant them permission to track your location so they can send you personalized discounts or offers.
You can change which apps have this permission by going to Settings > Privacy and tapping Location Services. This will show you a list of all the apps that have requested this permission. Then you can choose to allow the app to use this feature at all times, only while it’s running, or never.
Some of the apps that require this permission are mapping, weather, and ride sharing apps like Uber and Lyft. These need your location in order to locate you and give you the best possible ride.
Another app that requires this permission is your camera, which asks to add the location where you take photos. This data can help you find pictures and share them more easily.
Other apps that need your location are social media, news, and navigation apps. These need to know where you are so that they can provide you with the latest updates and news about what’s happening in your area.
Coupon apps also need to know your location so that they can find the best deals in your area and send you personalized notifications about them.
While most of the apps that need this permission are pretty harmless, there are some that you should definitely avoid. The reason is that they don’t always tell you exactly how they’re using your data, and it can get buried in their confusing privacy policies.
For example, the Weather Channel app, owned by an IBM subsidiary, says that it needs to know where you’re at all the time in order to provide you with personalized local weather reports. But it doesn’t disclose that your data is being sent to other companies and sold for marketing purposes.
There are also apps that request your location to let you book flights or rental cars. These aren’t usually a concern, but if you’re worried about them tracking you, there are ways to turn off this permission.
To do this on an iPhone or Android, you can go to Settings and tap Privacy. This will bring up a list of all the apps that have access to your location. If you want to change the settings, you can choose to allow the app to use location at all times, only while it’s run, or never.
For most people, this is a fairly straightforward process. But if you’re concerned about your privacy, it’s a good idea to check your settings regularly to make sure you’re not giving apps the ability to track your location without your knowledge.
Apps Not Accessing Your Location
Many apps need your location to work correctly, but some don’t. In iOS, Apple offers a privacy feature that makes it easier to see whether an app is using your location and stop it if you don’t want it.
When you first open an app that wants to access your location, you’ll see a prompt that says which app is asking for permission and its reason for doing so. It also shows you a map based on where the app has been tracking you.
In addition to that, you can limit or revoke location services for individual apps from the app’s settings page. That can help you preserve battery life, ensure your privacy or keep unwanted apps from running.
Similarly, if you turn on the Status Bar Icon under System Services, you’ll see a black arrow in your status bar any time system services access your location data. This can help you quickly identify and disable any apps that are wasting your data.
To control location services for a specific app, find it in the list on the Location Services page and tap it to see its options. From there, choose Anywhere to allow the app to use your location whenever it’s available or While Using the App to let it only use your location when it’s active.
You can also limit or revoke location services from an individual app by going to the app’s settings, tapping the Info icon and selecting Location Services. You can then limit or revoke location services for that particular app by choosing Anywhere, Only while the app is used, Ask every time or Never.
When an app uses Location Services, it sends your geo-tagged location of nearby WiFi hotspots and cell towers to Apple. This is useful for augmenting Apple’s own crowd-sourced database of these locations, but if you’re concerned about your privacy, disable the service or use it mindfully.
However, if you’re using third-party apps that depend on location services, the problem could be that they don’t update your location as frequently as they should. That can mean your maps and directions are out of date, or that the information they provide isn’t accurate in areas where they don’t have access to cellular data.
In iOS 13, Apple added a new notification that provides more detail about how granularly an app is tracking your location. It displays a map showing where the app has been tracking you and how often. It’s a useful tool to help you understand when an app is tracking you, but it’s still important to read the app’s terms and privacy policies to fully determine its intent.
Some apps, especially localized ones like restaurant apps, don’t need your location at all. Others, like weather and news apps, do. But there are cases where a company can’t provide you with the information you need if they don’t know where you are, such as searching for restaurants that deliver to your home or providing a forecast that combines current and historical weather conditions.