I was sort of willing to let the idea slide, mostly because the location was usually the person’s home. I figured that these people probably just didn’t realize that, at some point, they had, in fact, told their iPhone where they lived. And while your iPhone providing real-time traffic estimates for how long it would take you to flee your present location for the safety of your home sounded a bit odd, it didn’t strike me as anything more than a “convenience feature” that was really more of a “silly & unnecessary” feature.
But then I started to see examples where the location in question wasn’t the user’s home.
One afternoon, the Engineer in me needed to know how iPhones knew where their users live, and how traffic estimates to those locations wound up showing up on users’ notifications screens.
So I messed around with my iPhone.
Why Do I Get Traffic Notifications?
I found this:
Yes, I keep traffic conditions on. No I don’t help Apple improve its products, and no I don’t like my iPhone to show me what’s “near me”. Call me paranoid. Whatever. You’ll see!!
Armed with the knowledge as to why my iPhone believed I wanted notifications regarding routing & traffic, I moved to researching how it knew where I was going. Who was it? Cleo?
I’m very anti-reinvention of the wheel. So while looking into this weird feature, I took to the Internet. The Internet brought me to this blog piece: How to use Frequent Locations and Next Destination features in iOS 7.
Your iPhone Knows Where You Were Last Summer
“Buried deep inside your Location Services privacy settings is a feature Apple calls Frequent Locations.”
Exhibit A (this screenshot is how the features look in iOS 9)
Because I’m too much of a “privacy freak”, I cleared my frequent locations & turned the “feature” off, so instead of looking like this:
“Without any action required from the user, your device will effectively keep a log of your regular whereabouts. This data is not only used to improve Maps, but also to provide you with location-related information.”
I’m so glad I’m helping to improve Maps. By the way, you can turn that off:
The blog I read went on to say “When turned on, your device will quietly keep track of locations you go to on a regular basis. For most people, this could be school, work, home, or any location that is frequently visited.”
Apple‘s official explanation (About privacy and Location Services for iOS 8 and iOS 9):
“Frequent Locations: To learn places that are significant to you, your iOS device will keep track of places you have recently been, as well as how often and when you visited them.”
I feel like iPhone is essentially just creating documents for production in court. Although, if you’re one of those people who doesn’t think Brooke Wyndam had the right to keep her liposuction a secret (Legally Blonde…), you likely see this log as the perfect alibi.
Fortunately, Apple actually implemented privacy protections:
“This data is kept solely on your device and won’t be sent to Apple without your consent”
But, it is precisely that data that causes this phenomena:
Your iPhone Is Also Going To Help You Get Back To Where You Were Last Summer
Apple’s site: “It will be used to provide you with personalized services, such as predictive traffic routing.”
The Blog explains the creepy traffic notifications in more detail:
“This location-related information is part of what Apple calls Next Destination, a feature that will display travel time to your Frequent Locations in Notification Center.”
Yup, that’s definitely what we were looking for.
“For example, if you go to the office everyday around 8am, your iPhone will detect the pattern, and after a few days, it will start showing the travel time to that destination in your Notification Center, allowing you to adapt the time you leave home accordingly, if needed.”
The Engineer in me kicked-in: “That’s brilliant!”
“I have to say that this feature is quite impressive. I go to Starbucks everyday around the same time. My iPhone has figured this out and now tells me how long of a drive it is from me, pretty much at the same time every week day. Maybe even more amazing to me, my iPhone has now figured out that my family and I love to go to the Original Pancake House every Saturday morning. So every Saturday morning, I now see driving time information about that destination.
Although it doesn’t do much if your Next Destination is right down the street, this feature can be very helpful for commuters. If you have to drive downtown everyday, it’s nice to have an estimated time to destination on your screen prior to leaving home for work.”
Does that mean that my iPhone could use my Starbucks App to automatically order my drunk? Alas, not yet.
Feel free to use “Next Destination” all you want, or not use it at all. The blog piece I cited here is great. I just wanted to explain how it all works (since my friends were asking), and to explain that there is a flip side to all of this awesome technology (some pretty major privacy invasions).
Of course, with great knowledge comes great paranoia 🙂
Also super important: Your iPhone doesn’t judge- if you start making a habit out of being somewhere you shouldn’t be, your iPhone is still going to innocently provide traffic & routing information “as a courtesy”.