Tile Decries Apple's iOS 13 Location Tracking Changes, Calls on Congress to 'Level the Playing Field' [Updated]

Executives from PopSockets, Sonos, Basecamp, and Tile are attending a congressional hearing today to testify in an ongoing antitrust inquiry involving major tech companies like Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook, reports The Washington Post.

The smaller companies are aiming to provide evidence that the tech giants have become too big and have practices in place that stifle competition and hurt sales. Tile in particular is gunning for Apple, claiming that Apple's iOS 13 Bluetooth and location tracking devices have hurt its business, and that Find My resembles Tile's own service.

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Apple made sweeping changes in iOS 13, rolling out the ‌Find My‌ app alongside privacy-oriented changes that make it harder for third-party app developers to track customers without their knowledge.

According to Tile, ‌Find My‌, which is designed to let users locate lost iOS and Mac devices, has a major advantage over competing products because location tracking for ‌Find My‌ is enabled by default, while Tile must obtain user permission for location access in "deep, hard-to-find smartphone settings" that also has to be reauthorized with regular follow-up reminders.

Some lawmakers see Apple's changes as an effort to gain an edge over rival companies, but Apple says the iOS 13 updates are designed to improve user privacy and prevent app developers from using customer data without permission. "Apple has not built a business model around knowing a customer's location or the location of their device," Apple spokesperson Fred Sainz told The Washington Post.

Tile attorney Kirsten Daru said that Tile is "looking to Congress to level the playing field" because Apple's changes have caused a "confusing and frustrating experience for [Tile] users."

Sonos, PopSockets, and Basecamp are sharing similar complaints about Google, Facebook, and Amazon, and the information provided to lawmakers today has the potential to shape future state and federal probes.

Tile could soon be even more upset with Apple, as rumors suggest Apple is working on an "Apple Tags" product that can be attached to small items like wallets or keys to track them using the ‌Find My‌ app on the iPhone.

Tile Render

A mockup of what Apple Tags might look like

Apple Tags will directly compete with Tile's own trackers, and will be better integrated into the iOS operating system. Apple will also be able to offer more advanced tracking features, taking advantage of the ultra-wideband chip in the ‌iPhone‌ and the ‌Find My‌ option that uses connected Apple products belonging to other people to locate devices even when they're offline.


For those interested, there is a live stream of the congressional hearing that can be watched on YouTube, with the video embedded above.

Update: CNBC's Kif Leswing has shared Apple's full statement on the House Antitrust Subcommittee hearing involving Tile, which clarifies that Apple is working on an option that will let third-party developers enable "Always Allow" tracking at the time of setup. Apple plans to introduce this setting in a future software update.

Apple builds its hardware, software, and system level apps to protect user privacy and provide the best products and ecosystem in the world. Apple has not built a business model around knowing a customer's location or the location of their device.

When setting up a new device users can choose to turn on Location Services to help find a lost or misplaced device with Find My iPhone, an app that users have come to rely on since 2010. Customers have control over their location data, including the location of their device. If a user doesn't want to enable these features, there's a clear, easy to understand setting where they can choose exactly which location services they want enabled or disabled.

In regard to third-party apps, we created the App Store with two goals in mind: that it be a safe and trusted place for customers to discover and download apps, and a great business opportunity for developers. We continually work with developers and take their feedback on how to help protect user privacy while also providing the tools developers need to make the best app experiences.

We're currently working with developers interested in enabling the "Always Allow" functionality to enable that feature at the time of setup in a future software update.

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Top Rated Comments

simbo123 Avatar
58 months ago
Well Tile shouldn’t be selling products with non-rechargeable/non-replaceable batteries. Once Apple come out with their tile it will revolutionise tracking of products all over the world in a secure way thanks to the clever Public/Private key system they’ve developed with iOS 13.
Score: 29 Votes (Like | Disagree)
jarman92 Avatar
58 months ago
I have a Tile and sometimes use the app, but there is absolutely no reason why the app needs constant access to your location. When I need to find my keys, I open the app and press the "Ring" button...even at that point, Tile has no reason to know my location. The app still works if you disable location access but it pesters you incessantly to re-enable location services.
Score: 26 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Jeremy1026 Avatar
58 months ago
Maybe if Tile wants to control how they help people find their devices, they should make the devices people are using? Not just the things that attach to those devices.

On the other hand, nah.
Score: 25 Votes (Like | Disagree)
ActionableMango Avatar
58 months ago

I have a Tile and sometimes use the app, but there is absolutely no reason why the app needs constant access to your location. When I need to find my keys, I open the app and press the "Ring" button...even at that point, Tile has no reason to know my location. The app still works if you disable location access but it pesters you incessantly to re-enable location services.
This is incorrect. Tile has two very good reasons to constantly track user location. It is fundamental to how it works.

1) Let's say Bob loses his widget somewhere while running errands. Bob doesn't know where. If Tile (the app/service) had constant access to Bob's location, it will know the last time and location Bob's widget was in range of Bob's phone, because it had been tracked. Bob can go to that last known location, press the Ring button, and find his widget.

On the other hand, if Bob had location tracking turned off, then Tile has no idea where and when the widget was last in range of the phone. Bob will have to retrace his route of errands, constantly hitting the Ring button every 10 feet due to the short range of Bluetooth, and hope for the best.

2) Let's say Sara has a Tile on her ferret's collar. The ferret gets loose accidentally and is running around the neighborhood. Sara had location tracking turned on for Tile, but it doesn't really matter since the last reported location in range of her phone was the ferret at home.

However, thankfully, there are many other Tile users around. And when Sara reports her Tile lost, the entire Tile Community Network looks for the ferret. If and when the ferret ever gets in range of anyone's Tile, it is reported to Sara. In a twist of fate, the ferret is hiding out near Bob's house, and because it is in range of Bob's phone and he has location tracking services on, Sara can go get her ferret.

----

So you can see, every single person turning off Tile location services loses feature #1 and weakens feature #2.

If you have location services off, then you are unable to benefit in scenario #1, and you are also refusing to help others find their items in scenario #2. That's totally fine, use the product however you like. Maybe you only need a "I want to find something I set down in the house somewhere" device, and maybe you prefer higher personal privacy over helping others.

But that is NOT the same as saying Tile has absolutely no reason to have location services on. They have very good, fundamental reasons for wanting that to be on.
Score: 22 Votes (Like | Disagree)
dugbug Avatar
58 months ago
how has the find my app hurt their existing service? I mean, I can see if there were 'tags' released but the find my app? We have had find my iphone for years.
Score: 20 Votes (Like | Disagree)
acorntoy Avatar
58 months ago
Tile came out long after Apple introduced the ability to remotely ring devices with MobileMe. If anybody copied it was Tile.
I love Tile but this seems like they’re grasping.
Score: 19 Votes (Like | Disagree)