As per a new discovery, it seems that the iPhone 11 Pro requests user location data, even if permission is denied to apps and system services.
This discovery comes via a report from KrebsOnSecurity. When all apps and system services are set to 'never' request location information, iPhone 11 Pro still tries to request location data. KrebsOnSecurity demoed this by disabling all permissions, and putting the iPhone in Airplane mode. When Airplane mode is turned off, the location services icon appears in the top status bar. This indicates location activity.
However, when Settings > Privacy > Location Services are toggled off, and the same steps are repeated, the location services icon does not appear. This issue can be replicated on iPhone 11 Pro running iOS 13.2.3. iPhone 8 could not replicate this issue, as per the author.
An Apple engineer shared a responded to these privacy allegations by KrebsOnSecurity:
“We do not see any actual security implications,” an Apple engineer wrote in a response to KrebsOnSecurity. “It is expected behavior that the Location Services icon appears in the status bar when Location Services is enabled. The icon appears for system services that do not have a switch in Settings”
While this might be regarded as a privacy bug, it is important to note that when a cellular device connects to a carrier, there is an initial exchange of some data which might include location information. This is used by carriers to identify how many devices in the area are connected to a particular cell tower. This is usually not accurate location data, like GPS, and cannot be used to track a user with pinpoint accuracy.
Kerbs says that the issue might be related to the addition of Wi-Fi 6 networking to iPhone 11 models, but there is no proof that this is the actual cause. Whatever the reason is, Apple should provide more details, and a possible solution, as they really pride in their focus on user privacy.
If you feel concerned about this behavior, the current workaround is to disable system-wide location services. However, considering that most apps and services utilize location services, it will impact user experiences.