Is the new iPhone Journal App sharing your private information with others?

By March 14, 2024 Technology

We’ve seen several posts – presented as PSA warnings – circulating on Instagram and TikTok claiming that the recently introduced Journal feature on iPhones shares your “full name and exactly where you’re geo located” with anyone nearby. According to the claim, this is a major security risk that can compromise user safety.

The Journal app was introduced with the iOS 17.2 update in December 2023. The app allows users to write daily entries and incorporate elements such as videos, images, articles, podcasts or locations.  

As detailed in Apple’s press release, the Journal App also includes an “intelligently curated” personalised suggestion feature called Journaling Suggestions, which prompts users to log journal entries using context from scanning the iPhone’s surroundings through Bluetooth, and from communicating with other applications such as Photos, Contacts, or Music. For instance, the journal app might prompt a user to write an entry about a new café or prompt them to reflect on a podcast episode they recently listened to.

However, does the technology being used in the Journaling Suggestions pose a security or privacy risk as the claim suggests? Does having Journaling Suggestions turned on allow people nearby access to one’s full name and location?

The Journaling Suggestions feature can be customised to limit or remove access to certain apps, and an additional toggle can be flipped to prevent your iPhone being “Discoverable by Others” through Bluetooth (much like with the Airdrop feature).

However, there does not appear to be any basis behind the claim that being “Discoverable by Others” allows all other iPhone users nearby to access your private information.

Toggling the “Discoverable by Others” off prevents the phones of users who are using the Journal App from detecting your iPhone. As a result, your iPhone will not be used as part of any other devices’ Journaling Suggestions.

While a quick glance at the toggle might cause anxiety about privacy, we could find no evidence that the Journal App in transmits “full name and geo-location” details to nearby devices – regardless of whether privacy settings are toggled on or off.

In a Privacy information page published recently on Apple’s Legal section, the company emphasises specifically that while Bluetooth is used to detect devices and contacts, this information is used by the app and is neither shown to users directly, nor shared with Apple.Further, no direct information is retained or used. This means that when a contact is registered, the Journal App does not directly mention or store information about that contact’s name. Instead, it merely uses general information (such as multiple contacts being in the same location together, or thousands of iPhones in a single room) to infer that an event or gathering occurred, prompting a Journaling Suggestion based on that context.

We therefore give this claim a rating of False.

The claim seems to be loosely based on a general wariness over privacy and device tracking. However, it is not supported by any actual occurrence of “full name and geo-location” being shared. Instead, it draws on existing anxieties to spread misinformation – preventing some from making informed choices about their device options.

While some may not be comfortable with the features of the Journal App as described by Apple, their decisions should be based on accurate information rather than claims such as this one which misrepresent privacy risks and cause unwarranted anxiety.

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