Your iPhone Has a Hidden List of Every Location You’ve Been
It’s called the Significant Locations list, and you probably didn’t know it existed
Hiding in not-so-plain sight, deep within the depths of your iPhone’s settings (seven layers deep, to be exact) is a level of location tracking that very few iPhone users are aware of and probably won’t feel comfortable with.
Sure, many of us know that our iPhone generally tracks us when we use certain apps to enable it to share personalized information like the local weather, coffee shop recommendations, and more.
But in a quick survey I ran with some friends, not one person (out of dozens of people that I surveyed) knew where or how to navigate to this specific screen that I’m talking about here. It’s called the Significant Locations list.
The Significant Locations list shows a minute-by-minute route history of my exact whereabouts in every location I’ve been over the past few years.
For what it’s worth, Apple says this data isn’t shared without your permission. According to a support page outlining the company’s privacy policies for location services, the data collected by the Significant Locations feature “is encrypted and stored only on your device and will not be shared without your consent. It is used to provide you with personalized services, such as predictive traffic routing, and to build better Photos Memories.” You don’t need to worry about the data being used for marketing, or about an Apple employee snooping.
Still, Significant Locations is a stark reminder of how much data you generate through the simple act of walking around with your iPhone. And it’s similar to data that could be leveraged by other services when you grant them permission to access your location.
Now, I am actually a huge Apple fan. I generally fall on the side of being more open about sharing data and personal information with tech companies so as to improve my overall customized user experience. I know why they want the data, and I’m alright with it.
But when I first discovered this hidden location list, I felt it was a bit much, to say the least. The Significant Locations list shows a minute-by-minute route history of my exact whereabouts in every location I’ve been in over the past few years.
How to find your location history
Step 1: Open the Settings app.
Step 2: Navigate to the Privacy section (small white hand, blue background).
Step 3: Click on Location Services.
Step 4: Scroll all the way to the bottom and click on System Services.
Step 5: Navigate to Significant Locations.
At this point, you’ll need to log in with your passcode or Face ID.
Now, here’s where it starts to get interesting. You should see a list of cities. Underneath each location, there’ll be a number of locations and a corresponding date.
If you scroll to your hometown, there should be dozens (even hundreds, in some cases) of locations. For me here in New York City, my phone shows “136 locations” underneath New York, New York, accompanied by a date range.
Step 6: Click on your hometown.
You’ll see that “Home” is probably first at the top of your list. Here’s where it gets even more specific.
Step 7: Click on Home.
You are finally presented with a minute-by-minute list of your commutes to and from your home and your method of transportation.
Taking a step back for a moment, Apple does qualify this Significant Locations section by saying that these are encrypted locations and cannot be read by Apple. We’ll have to take their word for that part. But it’s not so much that they even qualify it like that. What’s most surprising to me is how clearly hidden this section is.
Anyone who has ever built a digital product knows that if you’re putting something seven screens away from the main screen with a series of scrolls, clicks, and nonobvious names, you’re actively trying to hide the content from the end user.
Can I turn it off?
Remember: Apple says that this data is kept private. But if you’re uncomfortable with this list, you can simply move the Significant Locations switch to the off position. If you really want to wipe it clean, turn it on, scroll to the bottom of the history, and select Clear History.
This post is more of an FYI than a serious dig at Apple. At the end of the day, we are responsible for letting technology creep further and further into our lives, because we keep valuing its personalized benefits over the less useful but more private alternate universe.
Do some digging on your own to find out what settings are turned on and which you’ve turned off. Find out what settings you can control and what exactly they’re doing. You control your own tech destiny. This is just one quick PSA about an area of your iPhone you probably hadn’t explored too much. Technology’s ability to improve our lives in nearly all aspects is clear — but we as a society are healthiest as a whole when we fully understand the implications of how and why it all works.
This post has been updated to clarify how the Significant Locations feature works.