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How to use iPhone’s location tracking

You can also share your location with individual friends

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Your iPhone uses information from your cell service, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS to pinpoint its location, and since you almost always have your phone on you, your location as well. That information can be useful for a lot of things, such as letting others know where you are or finding your phone when it’s lost. Other times, it’s just more data that services and companies collect about you, creating privacy concerns.

The good news is you can tighten your controls so that apps are only accessing your location when it’s necessary.

Toggling your location settings can differ from phone to phone, depending on what model of iPhone you have and what version of iOS it’s running. The following directions were tested on an iPhone 11 running iOS 15; if you’re running a different version of iOS, there shouldn’t be much difference.

Turn off location access for specific apps

Location data is useful for some apps (for example, if you want to order food) and necessary for others, like maps or ride-shares. However, if an app asks for your location and you don’t feel it needs the data, you can disable location services for that app. Here’s how to do that.

  • Open Settings.
  • Go to “Privacy” > “Location Services.”
  • “Location Services” will most likely be switched on. Unless you want to completely cut all location services off (see below), leave it alone
  • Scroll down to find a list of all the apps that enable location services. Each listing will show the app’s name and the type of permission it has: “Never,” “When Shared,” or “While Using.” “When Shared” refers to the option “Ask Next Time Or When I Share.” Meanwhile, “While Using” will usually mean “While using the App,” but it can sometimes also refer to “While Using the App or Widgets.”
  • If you want to change a specific app’s access to your location data, click on the app listing.
You can adjust location services for specific apps.
You can adjust location services for specific apps.
How you can allow location access depends on the app.
How you can allow location access depends on the app.

If you click “While Using the App,” then that app will have access to your location either when it’s open or when it’s in use in the background.

For more ways to limit location access, click on “System Services” at the bottom of the “Location Services” screen. Here, you can toggle location access for a number of things, including Wi-Fi, time zone, emergency calls, and Apple News and App Store ads that are relevant to your location.

To the left of some of the service toggles, you may see a small arrow. A hollow arrow means the item may have access to your location under certain conditions; a purple arrow means the item has recently used your location, while a gray arrow means it used your location sometime in the last 24 hours.

For more ways to limit location access, click on “System Services.”
For more ways to limit location access, click on “System Services.”
Arrows show which apps are accessing your location.
Arrows show which apps are accessing your location.

To check whether your phone is still collecting location data, go down to the very bottom of the “System Services” screen and toggle the switch on for “Status Bar Icon.” This will display an arrow at the top of your screen when an app on your phone is accessing your location.

If you want to truly go off the grid, you can disable location services to prevent your phone from collecting any location data at all:

  • Open Settings.
  • Go to “Privacy” > “Location Services.”
  • Toggle the “Location Services” switch to off.
  • You’ll get a notice telling you that, while Location Services will be disabled for all apps, it will temporarily come online if you use the “Find My iPhone” and report your phone lost. Select “Turn Off.”

If you have an iPhone 11 or later

If you have a phone designed with Apple’s U1 chip — such as an iPhone 11 or later — and have disabled location services for specific apps, you may find that you still sometimes see the arrow. According to Apple, this is because these models use ultra wideband technology, which Apple says is regulated, so the phones use location services to determine if they’re in an area where ultra wideband use is restricted.

The iPhone requests location data when location preferences are set on an app-per-app basis, so switching off location services for your phone overall will stop these location requests since your phone won’t be able to collect any location data.

Share your location with individuals

If you’re walking alone at night or you’re in an Uber by yourself, you might want a friend or family member to know your location in real time. If you have iOS 13 or later, you can use the Find My app to share your location with family and friends.

  • Open “Settings.”
  • Go into “Privacy,” and make sure “Location Services” is switched on.
  • Go back to the main “Settings” menu and tap on your name at the top.
  • Select “Find My.”
  • Toggle “Share My Location” so that it’s on.
  • Then go to the Find My app. If this is your first time using the app, it will ask you whether you want it to access your location. Choose either to “Allow While Using App,” “Allow Once,” or “Don’t Allow.”
  • You may get a screen explaining that “Find My” can be used with an AirTag or for AirPods, and that there are apps for the watchOS as well.
  • On the map screen that appears, select “People” at the bottom of the screen.
  • Click the button that says “Start Sharing Location.”
  • In the “To:” field, type in either the phone number or name of your friend or family member.
  • If the person you select has a phone number that isn’t associated with an iPhone, you’ll be notified with a pop-up. (But you can still share your location.)
  • Tap “Send,” then select either “Share for One Hour,” “Share Until End of Day,” or “Share Indefinitely.”
The Find My app lets you share your location.
The Find My app lets you share your location.
Select “Start Sharing Location” and choose whom you want to share it with.
Select “Start Sharing Location” and choose whom you want to share it with.

It will then start sharing your location. In order to switch it off, click on your contact’s name in the “Find My” app under “People,” then tap “Stop Sharing My Location.” Confirm by clicking on the “Stop Sharing Location” button that pops up.

Send recurring notifications

You can have your phone send out recurring notifications as well. These are useful if you want your friend or relative to know when a you get to a location (or don’t get there).

  • In the “Find My” app, tap the “People” tab at the bottom of the screen.
  • Select the person you want to send notifications to (it should be somebody you’re already sharing your location with).
  • Scroll down until you see “Notifications” and tab “Add.”
  • A pop-up from the bottom will give you the option to notify that person. Select it.

You can notify the person when you arrive at or leave a specific location, and send the notification just once or every time you arrive or leave (for example, if you want to let somebody know every day when you get home from work).

Share via Messages

You can share your location through Messages as well:

  • Open a conversation in Messages.
  • Tap on the contact name and then click “Info.”
  • This will give you the option to “Share My Location,” which will give you the option to “Share for One Hour,” “Share Until End of Day,” or “Share Indefinitely.” Click one of those to start sharing.
  • If you want to stop sharing, click “Stop Sharing My Location” where “Share My Location” was. A button labeled “Stop Sharing My Location” will pop up. Click on that.

Update September 17th, 2021, 10:15AM ET: This article was originally published on December 12th, 2019, and has been updated to account for differences in iOS and in available services.