The Secret iPhone Menu Where All Your Frequent Locations Are Quietly Stored

This could take some by surprise, but the iPhone in your pocket is configured to keep track of the frequently visited places automatically.
The iPhone menu you didn't know exists 6 photos
Photo: Bogdan Popa/autoevolution
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You read it right. If you typically go to a coffee place, the school, or a doctor’s office, your iPhone knows it. What’s more, it also stores that information on the device.

For privacy-conscious users, this feature could cause new concerns. Having such information stored on the iPhone isn’t necessarily everybody’s cup of tea from a privacy perspective.

Apple says the feature was built with a good purpose in mind, as it provides you with essential information on your significant locations and allows Apple Maps to provide more advanced functionality.

Here’s everything you need to know about it and how you can disable this functionality.

The purpose of Significant Locations on iPhone

Before anything else, it’s important to understand why Apple configured the iPhone to automatically keep track of your significant locations.

By allowing your iPhone to store such information, Apple Maps can eventually provide personalized information. For example, the mapping service can offer predictive traffic routing.

In other words, Apple Maps knows precisely where you’re supposed to be in one hour, so it looks for a route, determines traffic conditions, and generates an ETA for you. The information is automatically displayed on your iPhone without any request from you.

Apple Maps is, therefore, capable of providing a more straightforward experience for the places you typically go to, in addition to home and work.

Significant locations options
Photo: Bogdan Popa/autoevolution

Significant Locations from a privacy perspective

Needless to say, not everybody is probably a big fan of having significant locations stored on their iPhones.

The feature is enabled by default when location services are activated on the iPhone. It’s integrated into system services, so if the smartphone is allowed to track you, the significant locations are saved as well.

Apple emphasizes that nobody else can see your significant locations. All the data is end-to-end encryption, so in theory, not even the company itself can read it.

Furthermore, users are always in full control of the data. They can disable the feature or delete the stored information. Removing all significant locations also helps reset predictive traffic routing in case something doesn’t work as expected.

Significant locations options
Photo: Bogdan Popa/autoevolution

How it works

In typical Apple fashion, the mechanism that powers significant locations is a bit unclear. We do know that the locations you visit on a frequent basis are automatically stored on your iPhone, but certain details are still unknown.

For example, if you visit a place regularly, especially if you do it at the same hour every day, it’s very likely to be considered a significant location. If you go to your local Starbucks every day before going to work, Apple will almost certainly add it to the list.

However, not all places are labeled as significant locations. Users need to spend a certain period of time at every location before it’s marked as significant, but Apple did not disclose additional specifics in this regard.

Based on the items in my history, I guess the threshold is around 10 minutes. In other words, if you spend more than 10 minutes at a certain address for several days in a row, chances are it becomes a significant location.

Significant locations options
Photo: Bogdan Popa/autoevolution

Where are Significant Locations stored on my iPhone?

Unsurprisingly, all saved locations are buried deep in iOS. As such, you’re very unlikely to end up coming across them by mistake.

Start by launching iPhone's Setting app. Go to "Privacy & Security" and look for an option called Location Services. Scroll down to the bottom of this section and tap the System Services icons (it’s usually the last one in the list). Again, scroll down and scan for Significant Locations. Tap this option, verify your identity, and you should now be in the place where all the sensitive location data is available.

This is where all settings for significant locations are available. Because it’s enabled by default, you can tap the toggle at the top of the screen to turn it off.

The summary section displays the number of records stored locally. The number is likely to be surprising, as the iPhone stores a lot of information based on how much you drive every day. In my case, the phone saved no more, no less than 196 records between February 3 and March 30.

The latest two records are displayed at the bottom of the screen along with a map and how long you’ve been there. The map is a preview generated by Apple Maps and shows your location precisely alongside the address.

Of course, you are allowed to clear the history and start from scratch if you don’t want the existing data to be available anymore. The data will also be removed from other devices where you are signed in to your iCloud account, such as Macs.
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About the author: Bogdan Popa
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Bogdan keeps an eye on how technology is taking over the car world. His long-term goals are buying an 18-wheeler because he needs more space for his kid’s toys, and convincing Google and Apple that Android Auto and CarPlay deserve at least as much attention as their phones.
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